Do you or your child struggle with feelings of anxiety? It’s hard to watch them suffer and pull in on themselves with worry. I know because my daughter has it, and even though she’s in a good place, it’s not going away forever—it’s just managed well. Your child can learn strategies to take charge of her nervousness and experience some serenity. I’m sure I am preaching to the choir on this, and kids can be resistant to it, but you can learn to control your anxiety with simple deep breathing techniques.
When you breathe deeply and fully, your body stays calm. You may still be a bit tense and feel clenched in your jaw, hands, shoulders—wherever she holds her feelings and concerns— but your relaxed breathing can protect you from an anxiety attack. In an anxiety attack, you may tend to hyperventilate, which increases the level of panic you experience. However, deep breathing keeps you in control. The trick is to be able to remember that when you are actually picking and hyperventilating.
When you hyperventilate, you take short, quick breaths in the top part of your lungs. Your chest expands, but you aren’t getting the full amount of air that you need to remain calm. The quick overload of oxygen you receive from shallow breathing makes your apprehension and panic even worse. This explains many of the uncomfortable symptoms during panic: dizziness, shortness of breath, a lump in the throat, and nausea. It becomes a cycle that can be very hard to break without practice.
The Most Beneficial Way To Breathe
Any time you can concentrate on breathing fully – all the way down to your abdomen – you’ll improve your relaxation response to stressful situations. The more you can breathe in and then hold it for a second or two, the calmer you’ll get when you exhale. If your chest is rising with each breath, you’re not expanding your lungs to full capacity. Your body lacks the oxygen it needs to thrive under the pressure of the moment.
Place a hand just above your belly button and breathe. If you’re breathing deeply, your hand will rise and fall with each breath.
Practice breathing slowly by taking full, deep breaths. You might feel a bit strange at first because you’re not used to it. It may make you nervous even (I know, that seems counterintuitive), but it’ll pass with practice.
When she’s anxious or panicky, remind her that she’s getting plenty of air even though she doesn’t feel like it. Her body is just caught in a flight or fight mode that makes her think something terrible is happening. So the sooner you acknowledge that and reassure her, the better. Validate her feelings, so she knows you understand.
A chemical imbalance may cause anxiety in the brain. It may simply be the product of over-active nerves that react too strongly to stimuli. Sometimes it’s negative thoughts and total fear. Regardless of what causes you to feel anxious, the most important thing is to alleviate it and reduce the degree to which it affects your life.
How Breathing Affects Anxiety
- oxygen consumption decreases
- breathing slows
- heart rate slows
- blood pressure decreases
- muscle tension decreases
- growing sense of ease in body, calmness in mind
Anxiety doesn’t have to stop your child from doing things
By lowering anxiety, your child may be able to:
- Get ready for school without a meltdown
- Speak in class without much fear
- Talk to someone new
- Start a new relationship or friendship
- Reduce her dependency on medication or therapy
Let me tell you, when your child can start to do these things, it’s so beautiful and heartwarming. Believe me, I found it life-changing, and more importantly so did she. It won’t happen overnight and they really need to practice the breath and trying to reframe the negative thoughts that may spur anxiety on.
If you’re contemplating reducing any medication or therapy you’re currently using, consult your physician before making any changes to your established regimen. But you can still start deep breathing with your child right away. Sure, she may roll their eyes at first or even say no, but that’s ok. These things take a little time to come around on. It may help if she knows it works in 30 seconds!
In the meantime, if she has an anxiety attack, have her hold on to you. You make yourself breathe slowly and deeply, and her breathing will match yours. And then, when she feels calm from that, she may just start deep breathing herself.