For many years I worked with a team of doctors, nurses and specialists with teens who have eating disorders. My role was to meet weekly with a small group of teens aged 10 to 17 and teach them self-awareness and stress management tips to help them overcome their eating disorder.
The teens I worked with had accute levels of stress, so much so that were in the hospital. In this context, my goal is to teach some simple understand and management of our brain chemistry so that a student is equipped to nip anxiety in the bud before it becomes chronic or debilitating.
Today, more parents, teachers and tutors are thinking about social-emotional development, mental and physical health, well-being and value-based leadership, which is great news. Nobody was talking about promoting more self-confidence and self-awareness amongst students when I was in highschool.
Some pains and pressures teens experience today relate to having trouble focusing, being over-scheduled, feeling anxious and nervous when taking exams and tests, dealing with peer dynamics like bullying.
So today, I would have done my job if you remember three cool things about your brain, and you remember three breathing techniques. Cool?
The overarching message: Everything works better when you are slightly more calm. When you are super stressed, it’s like you are wearing blinders and a dimished ability to see the bigger picture, think creatively, or even have a sense of humour.
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between imagined and reality. So if you are thinking about stressful scenarios 24 hours a day, your body understands that you are really living stressful scenarios. So a little bit of stress is good, because it helps us narrow attention to the task at hand. So when you child is writing an exam, some stress will help them stay focused. However, maintaining that feeling of stress in the body constantly, has a negative impact on mental, emotional and pysical health. What does this mean? The thoughts that you think are REALLY important. And if you catch yourself in a waterfall of negative thoughts, you have to pattern interupt!
Breathing technique 1:
We are wired to focus on the negative. Many of us know that that pre-historic humans could make two mistakes: Thinking there was a bear behind a bush when there wasn’t or thinking there wasn’t a bear behind a bush when there was. Guess which mistake caused you your life? Guess who our ancestors are? Right, people who assumed the worse were the ones who survived. So it’s very normal for us to focus on the most negative outcome, yet sometimes this hyper focus can create emotions aka chemical reactions that make it more difficult to do the things that create a happy, healthy, whole student.
Breating Technique 2:
Practice makes Permanent. This is perhaps the most important. Imagine your brain like Mount Royal, or any forest with paths. The most used trails are wide, and easy to walk. There are also smaller trails, you can only walk single file. And finally there are areas of forest, if you wanted to walk, you would have to cut branches and bushes. But eventually, if enough people waked that trail, it would be easy. Well the paths in your brain are the same. They are called neural pathways, and the more often you think a certain thought, the easier it is to think that thought again.
It’s so easy to focus on the negative, as we learned before, but if we want to develop self-confidence, we have to not only practice the worse case scenario all the time. We also need to practice imaging a positive outcome.
Breathing is an amazing tools that can be used to better understand your body, process emotions in the least damaging way possible and feel more in control and, thus, confident? Remember, we cannot control emotions. Emotions are like the weather. We have zero control of an emotion. The only thing we can control is how to respond to it in the least damanging way possible. So you are angry, you can punch a pillow, go for a walk, or tell your mom that you hate her. Two responses don’t hurt anyone, and one does. So why not channel your anger or frustration. And I statements are great. Instead of saying “I hate you!” you can say “I feel so angry right now, and I’m losing my mind.” Name it.
- Alternate Nostril breathing. This stimulates the left and right side of the brain, by stimulating those little olfactory nerves when you inhale and exhale. It will calm the body and make you feel calm, even if you are
- Breath of Fire: 30 times three rounds. It’s pattern interrupt.
- 4-4-6-2: Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale count of 6, hold for a count of 2.
Here are three breathing techniques that can be used to ease the life of a teen.