When that feeling of anxiety comes on your child (or yourself), it is because the amygdala in the brain is sending out signals that there is a threat and the body fuels up to respond in a fight, flight, or freeze response. It doesn’t really matter if the threat is real or imagined, or triggered by some past trauma, the body treats it the same way. One of the techniques that have proved helpful for others who are experiencing anxiety is what is termed strong breathing, or deep breathing.
Strong breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response, which is also an automatic response like fight, flight, or freeze.
The idea is to practice this breathing every day, at the times your children (or you) are calm so that it becomes easier to access in the moment of anxiety. In the moment of anxiety, it is very hard to breath if there has not been practice during the calm times. Many people find that having a code word associated with this technique helps them remember it when they need it the most. In our house, we call it ‘funny breathing’, coined by my 4 year- old- grand daughter who loves it when we mix up the order.
One example is to imagine a sweet smelling rose and breathe in its scent for a count of three, hold it for a one count, then imagine blowing out candles for a three count. It’s funny to mix it up and breath in the candle and blow out the rose, we do it this way when the 4 year old gets dys-regulated and needs something to get her out of the cycle.
Smelling soup, or hot chocolate, then blowing on it to cool it are also other examples. You and your child can come up with your own, too.
To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.” Psalm 25:1
This word, soul, is the Hebrew word nephesh. Hebrew is a concrete language and this word has the meaning of breath, that physical movement of air in and out of a body that we’ve just been talking about. Breath, hebraically, is a concrete evidence of life. Nephesh becomes the concrete expression of who I am, completely – my physical being, my emotions, my thoughts and my actions. Nephesh is ME. And You. The Psalmist says that transforming prayer is the lifting up of my very essence to become joined with the Father. Breath in…breath out.