By Alex Bruce/Special to The News
Most of us are highly activated and stressed right now.
Our sympathetic nervous systems have kicked in and our “flight or fight” response is present, which is why some of us are feeling angry, fearful or frozen.
While it is true that the stress response is a miraculous reaction in humans to ensure our survival, it is also true that if it is activated too often that it can be harmful for us.
One of the many things that sympathetic nervous system arousal does is limit our ability to be creative, which diminishes our options.
That’s why we often do things we regret when we’re angry, because that “fight or flight” system had provided us with a limited number of options to choose from. (I’m mad that my little brother took my teddy bear, so my only choice is to hit him.)
The good news is that the simple action of taking a breath can help us to switch from our sympathetic nervous system to our parasympathetic nervous system.
As a meditation and mindfulness instructor for children, adolescents, and adults, I teach this to people every day.
Calming ourselves is truly as simple as taking a breath.
The only trick is to make it a nice, deep, slow, calm breath.
The reason for this is because if our life was truly in danger, we wouldn’t be taking a deep breath – our breath would be shallow, which would further indicate panic/fear/immediacy, etc.
When we take a deep and relaxed breath, we override the part of our brain that thinks that we are in an emergency state.
Try it now.
Allow your eyes to close if that’s comfortable for you, or just gaze lightly at something – if it’s more preferable.
Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly.
Now take another one and allow your shoulders to fall away from your ears as you breath out.
Take another one and slowly count in for four seconds and out for six seconds. 1-2-3-4, 6-5-4-3-2-1.
Nice and leisurely.
Really feel the breath – investigate where you can feel it the best.
Do you feel your breath more in your chest or your belly?
Maybe it’s easiest to sense in your nostrils?
Be curious, as if it’s the first time you’ve ever experienced breathing.
Enjoy this and soak it in, surrender to your breath.
If you felt sleepy or tired or you were yawning, that is an extraordinary sign.
It means that in just those few breaths, you were able to switch from your “flight or fight” system to your “rest and digest” system.
You went from sympathetic to parasympathetic just by concentrating on your breath.
If you feel more stressed or anxious than you did before, that’s okay.
Just allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and accept your physical and emotional state without judgement – relax – there will be tons more suggestions throughout this series and I’m confident that we’ll find the one that will work for you.
If you are providing care and support for children or adolescents, there are many different options to explore breath-play.
Invite children to imagine that their body is a balloon and to blow the balloon up with every in-breath and to fully allow the balloon to deflate with each out-breath. (The out-breath is especially important, as long, slow, deep breaths out relax the nervous system.)
You could have them imagine that they are blowing out candles on a cake – big breath in, big breath out.
Be creative and make it fun; they could pretend to be blowing on a fuzzy dandelion or anything else you can imagine together.
Specializing with adolescents, they need this just as much as anyone, and appreciate the opportunity to practise mindfulness (whether you call it that or not).
They frequently comment that they love the 4 x 4 breathing (four seconds in, four seconds out) and we practise 4 x 4 x 4 – the 4 x 4, four times in a row.
Adolescents also like to investigate where they feel the breath the most when they close their eyes and investigate their inner workings.
Another favoured technique with this age group is simply slowly thinking the words, “breathing in” as they breath in and “breathing out” as they breath out, as it helps to keep them anchored in the moment.
The benefits of slow, deep breathing are infinite, and they’re available to you in one simple breath.
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– Alex Bruce is a health and wellness author and accredited meditation and mindfulness instructor, and this is excerpt from her: “Let’s Be Calm: The Mental Health Handbook for Surviving and Thriving Through Pandemic”
• Stay tuned tomorrow for the next COVID-19: In It Together column
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