When faced with a situation that trigger’s worry it can be hard to stay in the situation and push through. Uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings begin to creep up and at times it seems like avoidance is the answer. An inner worry voice might say, “you can’t handle this, something is wrong with your body. All the while your head is spinning, and stomach hurting. "Don’t go, don’t do it", says the inner worry. Avoidance, is that the answer?
Avoidance seems to work in the short term but overtime fear gets reinforced and activities become harder to do. The mere thought of a stressful event, like going to school attending dance or talking to someone new for can trigger lots of big emotions and avoidance.
When you are calm and relaxed your body is in “rest and digest mode”. In this place you feel good, you are cruising along. But when you are stressed to prepare for action and protection your body goes into wanting to fight, run away or hide. This happens so that you can protect yourself from something that seems worrisome/scary.
Close your eyes and think about the last time you were worried even just little bit.
Notice how your body feels.
Are you holding your breath? Or breathing fast?
Do you feel your heart beating faster?
Is your head spinning?
Does your body feel heavy?
Huntching your shoulders?
Is your mouth dry?
Do your eyes well up with tears? Or Do you begin to stare?
Are your legs feeling tight or loose?
Do your hands feel clammy or sweaty?
Think about your child being stressed. What do you notice about their body? Do their eyes become wide, face pale, or they start moving their back and forth. What would they tell you about how they feel in their body when they are stressed? These body symptoms are clues that there is a perception of something stressful. But it does NOT always mean that the situation is dangerous or that you should avoid it.
The breath is one key piece that can unlock some of what the body is holding. When we breathe fast or restrict our breath it is a signal to the brain that something is wrong and we are in danger. Once the lower brain gets that message that we are in danger whether it is real danger or imagined our protector part takes over and to keep us safe sets off those body symptoms. So your eyes dilate to take in more information around you, and your blood starts to move to your arms and legs to help you get ready for action.
In order to help unlock the body and connect back to our state of “rest and digest” we begin with using the breath. Our breathing is one of the channels that can interrupt the protector part of the brain and send a new signal that things are okay. By breathing in slowly filling up your belly with air first then chest and then breathe out chest first then belly. Often times I will hear clients say, “I forget to breathe”. So it is essential to practice breathing when calm so that you can remember to do it when stressed.
Here are some fun breathing exercises for kids and adults to practice.
Five minutes practicing these exercises is just as beneficial as spending 30 minutes. Kids will often report that after practicing these fun activities they remembered to breathe when feeling stressed. A few months ago I taught this to a class of 3rd graders. Several weeks later a student ran up to me and was so excited to tell me they remembered to use their breath when they were having a stressful moment. They were happy to report “it worked”.
Breathing in a slow and deliberate pace is one essential coping skill to connect back to our body and help move towards a state of calm. Click and read my other blog article for more information on conquering worry: conquering-worry.html
ROSE LAPIERE, LPC, RPT-S, ACS