All right, let’s take a moment to do a little self check. How are you doing, really though? How are you feeling? What’s going on in your life, and how do you feel about it? I’ve had a lot of stress lately, you can probably hear it in my voice.
There’s plenty going on in the world, and whether these things affect you directly or indirectly, you’re processing how it applies to you, and you feel the weight of it.
In previous episodes, we’ve discussed what you can and can’t control, practicing gratitude, and focusing on the good things. Have you noticed an overarching theme? These topics and tools are all about learning how to respond instead of react, how to handle stress better, how to deal with craziness in life. They’re helpful habits and life skills you’ll use for years — trust me.
I’ve got another one for you, and it’s going to sound too easy, too simple to actually work, but I promise you it will make a difference. Want to know what it is?
That’s it. Breathing. I know, it seems so basic. Let me tell you how simply breathing can help you manage stress.
Have you ever been in a situation that suddenly caused you to worry or panic, like a pop quiz or test you weren’t ready for, or you couldn’t find something or someone, or you had some drama with your siblings or friends, or an embarrassing moment? You might remember feeling your face get hot, your heartbeat pick up, your breath get shorter, your mind start racing, and you didn’t know what to do next so you just froze or ran away or even reacted like a volcano. These are natural reactions to stress, we are wired to work that way — it’s called our fight or flight response.
There are, however, more effective ways to respond to stress. We’ll talk more about managing emotions in the future. In this episode we’ll focus on breathing.
So you know the SWAT team? They’re the Special Weapons And Tactics unit of a police department. They’re highly trained and skilled at responding to intensely stressful situations. They have to make the right split-second decisions, and one of the techniques they use to keep their minds clear is called “tactical breathing.” Literally, breathing is one of the most-effective tools of the SWAT team.
Why do you think they practice breathing? Why is breathing so effective for people who have the most stressful jobs?
Breathing properly sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax, then your brain can tell your body to slow down your heart rate and breaths, and clear your head so you can think of an effective response — not reaction — to the present stressful situation.
For our tools, I’m going to first discuss the proper technique to breathing:
Imagine that you have a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Before you take a sip, you inhale through your nose, smelling the rich sweet aroma and filling your lungs and belly. Then you blow to help cool it off. These hot chocolate breaths help you breathe properly and most effectively. Also, you breathe to fill your belly, not huff and puff with your chest. Remember, hot chocolate breaths.
Now I’m going to describe a few of my favorite breathing exercises:
Triangle breaths – breathe in for three counts, hold your breath for three, breathe out for three, repeat. Like drawing a triangle. Try a few now.
Square/box breaths – breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for four, repeat. Like drawing a square. Give square breaths a try.
4-7-8 breaths – breathe in for four counts, hold for seven, breathe out for eight. This is especially effective if you can’t sleep. use it tonight!
To help you remember all of this, I created a “Just Breathe” poster for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
If you have favorite breathing techniques to add, I’d love to hear from you! Ask your parent’s permission to share your favs by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.