It was the mid-1990s, and the trading craze had just begun. . . About two dozen of us jeans-clad traders sat at long tables littered with keyboards and banks of monitors.
We pounded out trade after trade, as we yelled out symbols of stocks that were rocketing skyward . . . or careening lower.
Outside the towering stone office building that housed our trading room, the cold, concrete city spread below. Smokestacks, roads, parking garages and skyscrapers all reflected the steel-colored New York skies.
In our neon-lit room, however, shades of gray dissolved. Black or white ruled. Why? Because the stock market took no prisoners. Each day, we won . . . or we lost.
Our hearts, minds, and trading accounts flew high on the white wings of each victorious trade or descended into black holes of despair, on the agony of trades gone sour.
And the stress—oh, the stress! It was not uncommon to see a keyboard fly across the room, propelled by a loud volley of less-than-delicate words.
And through it all, every day, our mentor, Greg, would walk the aisles behind our chairs and yell, “Breathe! Breathe! Don’t forget to breathe!”
Why did he call out a command that should have been second nature to us all? Because, even back then—before we Westerners acknowledged much of a mind/body connection–Greg knew that the stress we were feeling tightened our shoulders and the muscles in our neck, thus cutting off much-needed oxygen to our brains.
He also knew that anxiety was causing our bodies to go into “survival mode.” That meant our brain was directing our blood flow, which contains oxygen, to our extremities, to help us “fight” or “take flight.”
Now, our body’s natural reaction to danger caused by stress worked well in cave-man days, when we had to choose between fighting a predator, or running away from it.
But when we’re sitting in front of a monitor, hog-tied to our seats because we have perhaps thousands of dollars on the line, “fight” or “flight” becomes irrelevant. Greg realized that the only way we could survive was to breathe—which would calm our hearts and our minds—so we could make the best decisions.
Fast-forward to the present. Recently, neuroscience specialist Diane Alexander, and I, presented a webinar for Weiss Education Trade Like the Masters. In the webinar, we revealed strategies developed by neuroscientists for Navy Seal recruits.
These strategies were targeted to help Seal recruits overcome the fear and stress associated with the extreme physical endurance needed to survive the training (including underwater tests, wherein instructors cut off trainees’ oxygen!).
As you may guess, one of the most powerful techniques suggested to the recruits to manage and banish their formidable stress levels, was the intentional use of breath, or “controlled breathing.”
Research has shown that controlled breathing can decrease stress, increase alertness, and rev-up our immune systems. Yogis have known this for centuries, and they routinely use breath control, known as pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality.
Scientists have also found that breathing practices can alleviate symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia and depression, and more. It seems that controlled breathing can alter the response dictated by the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as digestion, heart rate, and the body’s stress response.
Here’s the bottom line: When you insert quick and easy controlled breathing exercises into your day, you are calmer, happier, and make better decisions.
But wait, there’s more . . . I’ve discovered that by spending two or three minutes focusing on taking several deep, slow breaths before I turn out the lights at night, I enjoy a much better night’s sleep.
Here are three easy breathing techniques you can use to calm down or power-up during the day . . .
- To focus and remain calm: Take a deep breath, breathing down into—and expanding—your belly. Pause for a second or two. Now, exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four more times.
- Stress relief, also known as “Rock & Roll” breathing (this is a “two-fer,” as it also strengthens your core): Sit up straight on the floor or on the edge of a chair. Place your hands on your belly. While you inhale, lean forward, and expand your belly. As you exhale, push your breath out and curl forward, while leaning backward. (Your upper body is in a “C” shape.) Tighten your belly muscles and continue to exhale until your breath is completely expelled. Repeat ten times.
- Jump-start your energy and gain mental clarity: Mid-afternoon doldrums got you slumping in your chair? For more energy, try the “ha” breath: Stand up and stand tall, with a slight bend in your elbows, and your palms facing up. Inhale while drawing your elbows behind your body, palms remaining up. Next, exhale quickly, while thrusting your palms forward and turning them down and while saying “Ha,” out loud. Repeat quickly ten or more times.
I know these exercises work, because I use them myself on a daily basis.
Most of us don’t spend our days in stress-charged trading rooms, or in extreme training classes run by the Navy Seals.
Still, many of us recognize stress and anxiety as an integral part of our daily lives.
Whether it’s the stock market delivering an exogenous shock (surprise event) that could deliver a belly-punch to our portfolios, or holiday traffic, or overwhelming schedules and to-do lists, stress and tension are our constant companions.
Trouble is, as these feelings weave insidiously through our bodies, they limit our ability to make wise decisions, take the best actions, and they can even affect our health.
Now, though, you can take advantage of something you have with you at all times, your breath. You are now ready to make better decisions, in the stock market and in your life.
Until next time,
keep green on your screen!
Toni Turner is the President of TrendStar Group, LLC, is an accomplished technical analyst as well as a popular educator and sought-after speaker in the financial arena.
She is also the author of best-selling books: A Beginner’s Guide to Short-Term Trading, Short-Term Trading in the New Stock Market and Invest to Win: Earn and Keep Profits Bull and Bear Markets With the GainsMaster Approach, co-authored with Gordon Scott, CMT.