Stress Relief Tactics Navy SEALs Swear By

08/13/2014 09:30 am ET | Updated Mar 13, 2015

We asked former SEALs how they learned to keep their cool -- and how we can better navigate our personal minefields.

By Kathryn Wallace

Prep For Battle

Instead of wasting energy by catastrophizing about stressful situations, SEALs spend hours in mental dress rehearsals before springing into action, says Lu Lastra, director of mentorship for Naval Special Warfare and a former SEAL command master chief. He calls it mental loading and says you can practice it, too. When your boss calls you into her office, take a few minutes first to run through a handful of likely scenarios and envision yourself navigating each one in the best possible way. The extra prep can ease anxiety and give you the confidence to react calmly to whatever situation arises.

Talk Yourself Up

Positive self-talk is quite possibly the most important skill these warriors learn during their 15-month training, says Lastra. The most successful SEALs may not have the biggest biceps or the fastest mile, but they know how to turn their negative thoughts around. Lastra recommends coming up with your own mantra to remind yourself that you've got the grit and talent to persevere during tough times.

Embrace The Suck

"When the weather is foul and nothing is going right, that's when I think, Now we're getting someplace!" says Lastra, who encourages recruits to power through the times when they're freezing, exhausted or discouraged. Why? Lastra says the, er, suckiest moments are when most people give up; the resilient ones spot a golden opportunity to surpass their competitors. "It's one thing to be an excellent athlete when the conditions are perfect," he says. "But when the circumstances aren't so favorable, those who have stronger wills are more likely to rise to victory."

Take A Deep Breath

"Meditation and deep breathing help slow the cognitive process and open us up to our more intuitive thoughts," says retired SEAL commander Mark Divine, who developed SEALFit, a demanding training program for civilians that incorporates yoga mindfulness and breathing techniques. He says some of his fellow SEALs became so tuned-in, they were able to sense the presence of nearby roadside bombs. Who doesn't want that kind of Jedi mind power? A good place to start: Practice what the SEALs call 4 x 4 x 4 breathing. Inhale deeply for four counts, then exhale for four counts and repeat the cycle for four minutes several times a day. You're guaranteed to feel calmer on any battleground.

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