Back to Top Skip to main content

Ready, set, focus: Finding calm in a storm through the power of breathing

Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung) Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Mental Wellness | Health Readiness

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — While circling over foreign seas in bad weather one night, Air Force Maj. William MacVittie and his co-pilot considered whether to return to base or continue on their mission. Fuel was dwindling and the chatter remained constant from the radio. MacVittie took deep breaths; the ability to focus helped him maintain control of the situation and make critical in-the-moment decisions, he said.

“By focusing on my breathing, clearing my mind on what I had coming up, and calming my heart rate in such a manner, I found I was able to move forward and be successful at whatever my task was,” said MacVittie, a former flight commander.

According to Harvard Medical School, stress response can suppress the immune system, and the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. Air Force Lt. Col. Jannell MacAulay, director of human performance and leadership for the 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, said by taking controlled, deep breaths, people can lower their heart rate, retain focus, and alter their mindset.

“You can’t hyperventilate and take deep breaths at the same time,” said MacAulay, who holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology and a doctorate with work in the field of strategic health and human performance.

Stress is a perceived emotion and when people say they are ‘stressed,’ they’re often overwhelmed by their perceived circumstances, said MacAulay. In stressful situations, the body’s sympathetic nervous system response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, can be triggered. This response is intended to prepare the body for a dangerous or high-stress situation, but it can also happen in normal, less-monumental moments, like being stuck in traffic or studying for an exam.

Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, allows the air coming in to fully fill the lungs, raising the lower belly. This exchange helps the body exchange oxygen, which slows the heartbeat and lowers blood pressure. Most people don’t use the full capability of their lungs, usually taking more shallow breaths, said MacAulay.

The ability to be present – and mindful – can alter a person’s mindset, level of focus, and ability to communicate, said MacAulay.

“Mindfulness is bringing an awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, but not allowing them to distract you from the present moment,” said MacAulay, who recommends taking a minute to stop, take a deep breath, and be present for 10-12 minutes a day, whether it’s all at once or broken down in to 10 one-minute segments.

MacAulay was 13 years into her career, juggling growing responsibilities, success, and family, when she decided she needed a way to manage it all. Turning to yoga, she found an outlet to release stress and learned how to bring awareness to her breathing.

MacAulay started practicing meditation and taking deep breaths when she was in a stressful situation at work or at home, and it became a powerful force in her life. She started calling the moments of practice as “going to the cloud,” or pausing for a minute, taking deep breaths, and being present in the moment.

“I started implementing it into my own life and realizing how powerful it could be, so I wanted to share it,” said MacAulay, who was the 305th Operational Support Squadron commander at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey at the time. She taught her airmen how to be aware of their stress responses, as well the impact of those responses on decision making and communication. “It really changes the way you interact with others, the way you connect and the way you build teams.”

Over time, she taught them to ‘go to the cloud’ whenever they felt their stress responses gearing up. She also introduced the “mindful minute” into weekly staff meetings, flights, physical training sessions, and commander’s calls.

“I had learned the power of being still with your breath when I was young, but Colonel MacAulay brought the science to it,” said MacVittie. MacAulay also put a name to the practice and helped MacVittie refine it.

While there was some hesitation about the effects of deep breathing and ‘going to the cloud’ at first, the practice soon gained traction among others in the squadron, and results were visible, said MacVittie. Being centered and using controlled breathing helps people perform at a higher level, he added.

“We spend a lot of time training service members to perform in stressful fight-or-flight situations, which is controlled by our sympathetic nervous system,” said MacAulay, adding that people have everything they need within them to calm themselves and use their breath in a positive way.

“We also need to focus on the recovery interval, and teach our military how to practice their parasympathetic responses as well. We have the opportunity here in the Air Force to start this mental fitness trend to make the best and most effective warfighter.”


You also may be interested in...

2016 – 2017 Cold Season, Cold Weather Injuries, Active and Reserve Components, U.S. Armed Forces

Infographic
1/18/2018
or the 2016 – 2017 cold season, the number of active component service members with cold weather injuries was the lowest of the last 18 cold seasons since the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) began reporting such data in the 1999-2000 cold season. Findings •	The overall incidence rate for cold weather injuries for all active component service members in 2016 – 2017 was 15% lower than the rate for the 2015 – 2016 cold season. •	The 2016 – 2017 rate was the lowest of the entire five year surveillance period. •	In the 2016 – 2017 cold season, the Army’s incidence rate of 41.0 per 100,000 person-years for active component soldiers was 18% lower than the Army’s lowest previous rate in 2012 – 2013. •	In the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the active component rate for 2016 – 2017 was only slightly higher than their lowest rates during the 2012—2017 surveillance period. Pie chart 1 (left side of infographic): Cold Weather Injuries, By Service, Active Component, 2016 – 2017 data •	Army 57.6% (n=189) •	Marine Corps 21.0% (n=69) •	Air Force - 13.1% (n=43) •	Navy – 8.2% (n=27) •	The sharp decline in the Army rate during the 2016 – 2017 cold season drove the overall decline for all services combined. Pie chart 2 (right side of infographic): Percentage distribution by service of cold weather injuries among reserve component service members during cold season 2016 – 2017  •	Army 72.9% (n=43) •	Marine Corps 13.5% (n=8) •	Air Force 13.5% (n=8) •	Navy (n= 0) •	For the 2016 – 2017 cold season, the overall rate of cold weather injuries for the reserve component and the rates for each of the services except the Air Force were lower than in any of the previous four seasons. Access the full report in the October 2017 MSMR (Vol. 24, No. 10). Go to: www.Health.mil/MSMR

This infographic documents cold weather injuries among the active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces for the 2016 – 2017 cold season.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Health Readiness

Cold weather injuries during deployments, July 2012 – June 2017

Infographic
1/18/2018
During the 5-year surveillance period, 105 cold weather injuries were diagnosed and treated in service members deployed outside the U.S. of these, 39 (37%) were immersion injuries; 33 (31%) were frostbite; 16 (15%) were hypothermia; and 17 (16%) were “unspecified” cold weather injuries. Pie chart for cold weather injuries during deployments displays depicting the information above. Number of cold weather injuries bar chart: Of all 105 cold weather injuries during the surveillance period, 68% occurred during the first two cold seasons. Bar chart shows the number of cold weather injuries by year: •	2012-2013 cold season had 35 cold weather injuries •	2013-2014 cold season had 100 cold weather injuries •	2014 -2015 cold season had 13 cold weather injuries •	2015-2016 cold season had 11 cold weather injuries •	2016 – 2017 had 10 cold weather injuries Access the full report in the October 2017 MSMR (Vol. 24, No. 10). Go to: www.Health.mil/MSMR  #ColdReadiness

This infographic documents cold weather injuries during deployments for the July 2012 – June 2017 cold seasons.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Health Readiness

Percentages of each Service’s cold weather injuries, 2016 – 2017 cold season

Infographic
1/18/2018
Did you know when all cold weather injuries were considered, not just the numbers of individuals affected, frostbite was the most common type of cold weather injury, comprising 53% (n=177) of all cold weather injuries among active component service members in 2016 – 2017? •	In the Air Force and Army respectively, 60.9% and 58.9% of all cold weather injuries were frostbite, whereas the proportions in the Marine Corps (42.9%) and Navy (25.0%) were much lower. •	For the Navy, the 2016-2017 number and rate of frostbite injuries in active component service members were the lowest of the past 5 years. •	The number of immersion injury cases in 2016 – 2017 in the Marine Corps was the lowest of the 5-year surveillance period. Bar graph: Percentages of each Service’s cold weather injuries that were frostbite, 2016 – 2017 cold season •	Air Force (60.9%) •	Army (58.9%) •	Marine Corps (42.9%) •	Navy (25.0%) For all active component service members during the 2016 – 2017, the proportions of non-frostbite cold weather injuries were as follows: •	19.5% hypothermia •	17.7% immersion injuries •	9.9% Other & unspecified cold weather injuries Access the full report in the October 2017 MSMR (Vol. 24, No. 10). Go to: www.Health.mil/MSMR  #ColdReadiness

This infographic documents the percentages of each service’s cold weather injuries, U.S. Armed Forces for the 2016 – 2017 cold season.

Recommended Content:

Winter Safety | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Health Readiness

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016

Infographic
6/19/2017
Did you know  … ? In 2016, essential hypertension accounted for 52,586 encounters for health care among 29,612 active component service members in the U.S. Armed Forces. Of all cardiovascular diseases, essential hypertension is by far the most common specific condition diagnosed among active duty service members. Untreated hypertension increases the risks of subsequent ischemic heart disease (heart attack), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and kidney failure. CHART: Healthcare burdens attributable to cardiovascular diseases, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016 Major condition: •	For all other cardiovascular the number of medical encounters was 70,781, Rank 29, number of individuals affected was 35,794 with a rank of 30. The number of bed days was 4,285 with a rank of 21. •	For essential hypertension the number of medical encounters was 52,586, rank 35, number of individuals affected was 29,612 with a rank of 35. The number of bed days was 151 with a rank of 86. •	For cerebrovascular disease the number of medical encounters was 7,772, rank 79, number of individuals affected was 1,708, with a rank of 96. The number of bed days was 2,107 with a rank of 32. •	For ischemic heart disease the number of medical encounters was 6,629, rank 83, number of individuals affected 2,399 with a rank of 87. The number of bed days was 1,140 with a rank of 42. •	For inflammatory the number of medical encounters was 2,221, rank 106, number of individuals affected 1,302 with a rank of 97. The number of bed days was 297 with a rank of 72. •	For rheumatic heart disease the number of medical encounters was 319, rank 125, number of individuals affected 261, with a rank of 121. The number of bed days was 2 with a rank of 133. Learn more about healthcare burdens attributable to various diseases and injuries by visiting Health.mil/MSMRArchives. #LoveYourHeart Infogaphic graphic features transparent graphic of a man’s heart illuminated within his chest.

This infographic documents healthcare burdens attributable to cardiovascular diseases among active component, U.S. Armed Forces in 2016.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Preventive Health | Men's Health | Heart Health

Signs of Mental Health Distress

Infographic
3/3/2017
Signs of Mental Health Distress

This graphic shows signs of mental health distress.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

Back to School Health and Safety Checklist

Infographic
8/4/2016
Health and Safety Checklist for Back to School

This infographic provides a going back to school health and safety checklist.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health | Immunizations

The HPV Vaccine Saves Lives

Infographic
5/16/2016
The Defense Department recommends male and female military service members, ages 17-26 years, receive an HPV vaccine series to generate a robust immune response to the quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV4). This graphic highlights information the benefits of the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective among fully vaccinated individuals.   Cancer Prevention Facts •	HPV is the most common sexually  transmitted infection (STI) •	There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas •	Some HPV types give warts •	Some HPV types develop cancer  Effective Against STI Transmission •	The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from the virus •	The HPV vaccine provides nearly 100% protection from HPV types 6,11,16 and 18 •	HPV vaccine shows early signs of success in reducing HPV infections and related illnesses •	Protection is expected to be long-lasting  Safety Tips •	Getting your HPV vaccine and practicing safe sex such as wearing a condom may lower the risk of HPV •	Limiting the number of lifetime sex partners can also lower the risk of HPV •	When given the HPV vaccine, the body makes antibodies in response to the protection to clear it from the body  Get the Facts •	2,091 female service members aged 17-26 years received 1-3 HPV4 doses during 2006-2012, stratified by number of doses (1, 2, or 3).  Get the HPV Vaccine •	Only 22.5% of eligible service members initiated the series •	Of those, only 39.1% completed the full three-dose series as of June 2011.  Even though the 3 dose regiment provides nearly complete protection against HPV16 and HPV18, in the U.S., only 12% and 19% of female adolescents among commercial and Medicaid plans respectively complete the series.  Read HPV Facts from the CDC: https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/IMM_Teens_HPV_Facts.pdf  Read the STI issue of the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report at Health.Mil/MSMR   Get the conversation started. Ask your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine today. Follow us on Twitter @AFHSBPAGE and use hashtag #VaccinesWork.

The Defense Department recommends male and female military service members, ages 17-26 years, receive an HPV vaccine series to generate a robust immune response to the quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV4).

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Immunizations | Men's Health | Human Papillomavirus | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Women's Health

Breast Cancer

Infographic
5/9/2016
infographic about the breast cancer and how to protect against it.

In the U.S., with the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer accounts for the greatest number of cancer diagnoses in women and the second most common cause of female cancer-related deaths. This infographic shows seven ways to protect yourself from breast cancer.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Women's Health

Be Heart Smart

Infographic
2/1/2016
Be Heart Smart Infographic

Be More Active, Avoid Tobacco, Choose Better Nutrition

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Preventive Health

Cervical Health Awareness Month

Infographic
1/11/2016
Infographic about Cervical Health Awareness month

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Preventive Health

Global Health Engagement Month #3

Infographic
12/29/2015
infographic for global health engagement

A healthy partner is a stable partner! Supporting partner nations' health system capacities is a critical element of global health engagement.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Global Health Engagement

6 Easy Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

Infographic
11/30/2015
holiday graphic listing 6 tips to reduce stress

Infographic listing 6 tips for reducing holiday stress.

Recommended Content:

Operation Live Well | Mental Wellness

Preventive Health Tip 4

Infographic
8/24/2015
Preventive Health Tip #4: Healthy Dental Habits

Encourage your child to practice healthy dental habits

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health

Preventive Health Tip 3

Infographic
8/17/2015
Preventive Health Tip #3: Healthy Snacks on Hand

Avoid obesity--keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Children's Health

Preventive Health Tip 1

Infographic
8/1/2015
Preventive Health Tip for Back to School

Ensure your child has the recommended vaccinations and be aware of changes.

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 > >> 
Showing results 46 - 60 Page 4 of 4

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.