VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (July 7, 2020) An East coast-based Navy SEAL conducts a military freefall jump from a C-2 Greyhound from the Rawhides of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 during training above Chesapeake Bay. Naval Special Warfare Command is committed to its Sailors and the deliberate assessment and development of their tactical excellence, ethics, and leadership as the nation’s premiere maritime special operations force supporting the National Defense Strategy. It is the maritime component of United States Special Operation Command, and its mission is to provide maritime special operations forces to conduct full-spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, to support national objectives. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Scott Fenaroli)

Navy SEALs command psychologist, Eric Potterat, PhD., listed four key mental techniques taught to SEAL candidates.  Arousal control, the third technique, concerns how we keep calm in stressful situations.  Here’s how you can apply this to help increase your own test performance.

You know that sinking feeling you sometimes get when you first turn over that exam and see a question you don’t know how to answer?  Often times you’ll start to sweat and you may feel jittery and hot.  That’s a panic response. 

It worked great 5,000 years ago when your great-great-great-great grandfather was being chased by a bear. His heart rate shot through the roof.  Cortisol–the stress chemical–flooded his system, making him hyper-vigilant to environmental cues and allowing him to react quickly and instinctively.  Blood flowed away from non-essential organs, such as the stomach, and rushed to major muscle groups so he could fight or run away. Helpful for getting away from bears; very unhelpful for concentrating on tests.

BUD/S trainees, candidates trying to become members of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, need powerful methods for controlling that panic response. You can use the same technique to amp up your mental performance and stop test .

The answer is what psychologists term “arousal control,” and one of the easiest ways to do it is by breathing carefully and deliberately.

Taking slow deep breaths with controlled exhales works to convince the that we are not in a situation where panic is helpful.  Expectant mothers in Lamaze classes, meditating monks, the SEALs, and folk wisdom all agree.  “Just take a couple of deep breaths,” is good advice.

Follow this formula…

  1. Inhale deeply, slowly counting to six as you do so
  2. Hold the breath for a count of two
  3. Exhale slowly for a six count, trying to completely expel every bit of air from your lungs.  Feel your face, neck, and shoulders relax as you exhale.  Blow the tension out with your breath.
  4. Hold for a two count
  5. Repeat three times at least

Practice this on a daily basis–in traffic, in line at the grocery store, waiting for class to start–and you’ll soon master the technique. Use it the next time you’re feeling stressed, like during your final .

This technique is deceptively simple. If elite military warfighters are using this technique to control their stress levels in battle situations, you can bet it will work for you on your next exam!

Thus ends the series, “Better Test Performance The Navy SEALs Way.” See the previous parts below if you missed any. If you’re in the military, thanks for your service!

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

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