Our Autonomic Nervous System connects our body to our brain and vice versa and can be manipulated simply by changing the way we breathe. When we are anxious or stressed by events in life or even thoughts about those events, our brain signals the Sympathetic part of that system (the alarm response). This results in faster heart and breathing rates as well as other physiological changes.
The cool thing is that the lungs and heart can give feedback to the brain and essentially convince the brain that things are calm, even when there are still stressful circumstances.
By intentionally making our exhalation longer than our inhalation, we can return to a more balanced state. This is a powerful tool when kids (and adults) feel anxious.
Three Ways to Use the Breath to Help Kids Reduce Anxiety
- And She Said Breathe is a picture book taking the reader through a day in the life of a young girl — Sophie. Over the course of Sophie’s day, she is faced with many challenges and to each one, she responds with a different type of breathing. Each breathing technique impacts her brain and body in different ways and elicits unique and beneficial responses.
- A Three Breath Hug - Match the fingers from each hand together (pinky to pinky, pointer to pointer, thumb to thumb etc.). Create a small sphere within your hands and hold your hands at your belly. As you exhale bring your fingers together squishing all of the air out of the sphere. As you inhale expand the sphere between your fingers as if you are filling it with air. Take five to ten of these breath cycles to create a calm yet alert state of mind.
- Finger Breathing - When your child is overwhelmed or struggling simply offer them a Three Breath Hug. As you embrace you take three slow deep breaths together. Your child may be too upset to take these breaths with you, but they feel you using your breath to calm down, and they learn to use the breath as a tool when they find themselves in difficult situations. Be sure to focus on that longer exhalation. The bonus is that the Three Breath Hug helps parents feel good too! So don’t be afraid to take a Three Breath Hug with one of your children when you are feeling anxious – you will be modeling a good practice for your kid, and decreasing the likelihood that the anxiety will spread to your children through our mirror neurons.