What is “calm breathing”?
Calm breathing is a technique that teaches your child to slow down his or her breathing when feeling stressed or anxious.
When we are anxious, we tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths or even hyperventilate. This type of anxious breathing can make anxiety even worse. Doing calm breathing can help lower your child’s anxiety, and give him or her a sense of control … and of course, it’s something that your child can do by themselves when you’re not around to help and support them. It really is a ‘portable’ tool and no one knows that you’re doing it. This is often very important for children and young people because they don’t want to be seen as different or needing special help in any way.
How to help your child master the technique:
- Explain why calm breathing is a good ‘trick’ to learn. You can explain, for example, that taking short quick breaths actually increases other feelings of anxiety (e.g. heart racing, dizziness, or headaches) … and conversely, slow breathing helps to automatically calm you down.
- Teach the calm breathing technique: Take a slow breath in through the nose (for about 4 seconds) Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds Exhale slowly through the mouth (over about 4 seconds) Wait 2-3 seconds before taking another breath (5-7 seconds for teenagers) Repeat for at least 5 to 10 breaths
‘Bubble blowing’ is a great way to practice some of this and there it’s fun! You have to take a slow, deep breath to make a big bubble, and you have to blow the bubble really slowly or it will pop. Practise doing that with your child. Take a slow, deep breath in, hold it for a second, and then slowly blow some bubbles, the challenge being to make the bubbles as big as possible – that takes control!
For Older Children and Teens: Since calm breathing involves taking slow, controlled breaths from the diaphragm, another way to explain this technique is to present it as “belly breathing”. The steps for this exercise are as follows: Inhale slowly for 4 seconds through the nose. Ask your child to pretend that he or she is blowing up a balloon in the belly, so your child’s belly should inflate when inhaling. Wait 2 seconds, and then slowly exhale through the mouth. Ask your child to pretend that he or she is emptying the balloon of air, so the tummy should deflate. Wait 2 seconds, and then repeat. Helpful Hint: When belly breathing, make sure your child’s upper body (shoulders and chest area) is fairly relaxed and still. Only the belly should be moving! Step 3: Practice, practice, practice! In order for your child to be able to use this new tool effectively, he or she first needs to be an expert at calm breathing.
Rules of practice:
- Practice a couple of times a day, doing 10 calm breaths in a row.
- Practice when you’re both feeling relaxed (if you’re doing it together)
- Once your child is really comfortable with the technique, they can start to use it in more anxious or stressful situations
- It’s a skill – it needs to be learned and practiced if it is going to be useful!
The vast majority of my clients come to me for anxiety-related issues … it’s a huge problem for many people of all ages, from primary school children onwards. If YOU suffer from anxiety, then you know that it’s not always easy to deal with everyday life when you feel panicky and overwhelmed. There are some steps that you can take, however, which will help to calm things down for you … because anxiety is NOT a life sentence.
- Recognise your OWN signs that anxiety is creeping up. Notice where you feel your stress and anxiety physically. I know I’m tired and anxious when I get headaches –the onset of a bad head is now my reminder to slow things down, to try to see things in another way, to go out for a walk or start looking after myself more.
- Notice when things are good too – reflect on WHY you feel better or differently. What has happened to make this change? Is it something that you can do again? Actually MAKE changes – rather than allowing them tohappen to you. It’s a cliché but if you keep doing the same old things, don’t be surprised that you have the same old life. Only you can change things for the better. Take control.
- Breathe … deep, slow breathing has the natural effect of calming everything down. Get into the habit of breathing through anxietyusing deep, abdominal breathing (or ‘belly breathing’) – naturally eliciting the physiological relaxation response in our minds and bodies. Anxious breathing is not productive – that rapid, shallow breathing is designed as a short term ‘fight or flight’ response. Start to NOTICE when you are breathing like this – then you can put your anxiety in reverse by deep belly breathing. It sounds simple – and it is – but it WILL make a difference if you persevere
- Make time for fun and relaxation – not just as a response to feeling anxious but every day. Relaxation isn’t something you should do when you’re so frazzled you can’t think straight – it’s something that needs to be part of your everyday routine. It simply means that setting some time aside for things that you enjoy and that nourish you in some way. They don’t have to be ‘worthy’ activities – relaxation is not about what you ‘should’ be doing but what you actually WANT to do. Life is full of ‘shoulds’ – relaxation is all about ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Life is so much more manageable when you have some time to yourself, filled with things to look forward to. Give it some thought – what would really feed your soul?
- Harness the power of nature – getting out for a walk (or a run) is a great way to alleviate anxiety, clear your mind and get things into perspective. It doesn’t solve all your problems but it does give you the opportunity to take some time out – even if it’s just for a ten minute stroll round the park. And as we go into Spring, hopefully there’ll be some sun, helping your brain to release serotonin, associated with boosting mood and helping you to feel calm and focused.Sunshine really is nature’s own anti-depressant.
f you need extra help managing your anxiety,please get in touch. For a free Hypno-relaxation MP3, go to: https://payhip.com/b/tj7W
The stereotype image of university life is a group of students having a whale of a time – going out to college parties, getting drunk, enjoying being irresponsible before joining the real world of work … and even occasionally going to the odd lecture. And for lots of students, life really can be a ball (some of the time – no one can spend their entire time dressed in a poncho, sombrero and fake moustache for a Mexican Fiesta Party J ) BUT, student life can also be difficult – the pressures of leaving home for the first time brings up all manner of insecurities and anxieties. Add that to the pressure of always looking like you’re having the most amazing time of your life and it’s no surprise that the first week of the university term is a huge emotional challenge for lots of new students.
Think about it …. Who would choose to be dropped off by their nearest and dearest into a situation where the accommodation is seriously under par compared to your family home, you don’t know anyone and you suddenly have to start cooking, washing and generally doing all the things that someone else has been doing for you for years..? It doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea on the face of it – but that’s what is happening to millions of 18 year olds in the UK this month. Of course, the expectation is that it’s going to get a whole lot better – bur right now, it’s tough.
So what can students do to make things easier?
- Even if you’re shy and nervous, make the effort to go into the communal area of your accommodation – don’t sit in your room all the time. Leave your door open when you are in there so others know that you are up for a chat. When I first took my son up to uni, we took a big cake – having something to share is a way of making that initial contact and is an ice-breaker.
- Have a look at the clubs and societies on offer in fresher’s week – create a social life for yourself with other like-minded people.
- Remind yourself that everyone in your flat or on your course are all in the same boat as you – if you’re all too shy to make the first move, then you’ll never talk to anyone!
- Be honest about how you feel – you don’t have to off load ALL your fears onto the first person you see but there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a bit nervous about starting uni. Some people can over compensate by creating a whole persona of fake confidence – most people can see through that!
- Accept that the few couple of weeks WILL be hard – but will get better.
- Look after yourself – eat well, get some exercise and be good to yourself.
- Stick with it for a while before rushing home for the weekend. Give yourself time to re-adjust to your new life.
- Lastly, if you feel that things really are getting on top of you, find out about emotional help from Student Services – lots of universities offer well-being classes (such as mindfulness) as well as counselling. Don’t suffer in silence.
For a range of MP3s – including a FREE Relaxation audio, and audio/ebook for Social Anxiety, please use the following link to Bluebell Therapy’s new shop:
September can be a difficult time for some children …
Social media is chock full at the moment of the usual ‘back to school’ photos – excited primary school children in their brand new school uniform and a few reluctant teens with embarrassed smiles. September heralds a new beginning every year – for children, parents and teachers. But new beginnings can be tricky – sadly, not all children love school … and some find it very stressful.
Tests and assessments bring pressures, as well as having to cope with new teaching styles and personalities and perhaps different expectations and rules. For some children, change is exciting – but for many others, it’s scary and challenging.
So what can parents do to minimise stress for their children?
- Don’t make going back to school into a huge big deal if you know that your child is nervous. We sometimes try to ‘jolly’ children along and create a false sense of excitement. If it isn’t there, don’t force it! Going back to school is a part of life and approach it in a calm measured way.
- In the same way, if you’re feeling anxious about it as a parent, be careful not to pass that anxiety on – children learn by watching the way that you behave. Be a calming influence – don’t teach them how to be anxious!
- Give them the opportunity to talk … but don’t badger them to talk about their feelings if they don’t want to. Create an atmosphere where they know that you are responsive to their needs and will listen when THEY want to talk.
- Look for the positives – what do they enjoy at school? Is there a way they can do more of what they enjoy? Look at after-school clubs and outside activities that cater for their interests. If they find school a tricky place to be sometimes, they need other things that they enjoy. It’s the same with adults – no one wants to feel that work is the only thing they have in life. Schoolwork is important – but balance is the key.
- Talk to your child’s teachers if they are struggling – teachers can’t do anything about it if they don’t know.
- Find activities which help your child to relax. Yoga is getting more and more popular for teens and younger children and hypno-relaxation is great for kids too as it really taps into their wonderful imaginations.
- Get a healthy sense of perspective and encourage them to do the same … education is important but it’s not just about tests and results. Being a kind person, a good friend and a rounded individual are even more important than what you got in your latest Maths assessment. Make sure your child knows that.
- Don’t make comparisons between your kids – if their older sister always gets great grades, for example, the chances are that they will feel the pressure to compete. Make it clear that you appreciate whatever it is that makes them unique – everyone has different talents and abilities – value them equally.
- Lastly, have fun as a family! No one is the perfect parent but find what works for you.
When anxiety is on its way …
Anxiety can work by stealth, creeping up on you when you least expect it or it can arrive with a trumpet fanfare … but however it arrives, it makes itself known pretty quickly. Palpitations, headaches, racing heart rate, that horrible feeling of being unable to control what might happen next … all these things and more make anxiety such a formidable enemy. It CAN be defeated – it’s NOT a life sentence … but when it hits, it can sometimes feel that way. Lots of things can help to get rid of anxiety for good … hypnotherapy and counselling can really help, as can lots of self-help techniques to re-discover the positives in life and actively seek them out. But of course it’s difficult to remember that when you’re caught up in a downwards spiral.
So what can you do, in the short term, to manage anxiety?
Try a CALM BOX
The idea of a ‘Calm Box’ is that you have a box full of things which help you to relax, all on hand, because the last thing you want to do when you’re in the throes of anxiety is to go looking round the house for things to calm you down!
So what could go into your box?
Your calm box needs to work for YOU, so yours will be unique. The best starting point is to have a think about what calms you down. If you don’t know, then have a play with different things.
Here are a few ideas:
• Stress balls (there are lots of different ones – have a play!)
• Puzzles/wordsearches/cards are a great distraction if you
• A journal to write down your feelings – it can help to
express yourself (and nobody else will see it!)
• Music which soothes you – some people want relaxing meditation-type music, others want to dance!
• If you get stress-headaches (like I do), include some cooling strips for your head
• Re-connecting with your senses can help – so include something which appeals to each one of your senses
• It can be calming to have a lovely smooth stone or crystal to hold and touch
• For children, I would include some bubble mixture – to blow a really big bubble, you need to really slow your breathing down. It’s quite relaxing as an adult too!
• Colouring is now an acceptable and enjoyable adult activity! A good colouring book and some felt tips are a must for me – see if they work for you too.
You can find some really lovely free downloadable colouring sheets for adults using the following link:
Parties are fun, right? It’s true that many people enjoy the idea of a social gathering …. but a surprisingly large number of people find them extremely daunting … and some try to avoid them completely because their social anxiety completely prevents them from enjoying interacting with others in a social situation. What makes it worse is the stigma that anxiety has – sadly, it’s still not really acceptable to admit that you’d rather stay in and read a book than socialize with friends … and the fact that people don’t feel able to be honest is what often keeps the subject of social anxiety a secret.
And here’s the thing … LOTS of people are affected by it! Social situations ARE sometimes awkward and scary! Why? Well, because you’re opening yourself up to new experiences which you’re not sure about, new people who you don’t know and ‘exposing’ yourself to judgement (good or bad). In fact, most people are a bit nervous about going to a party with lots of new people… I know I am. But social anxiety disorder goes beyond that – it’s a real phobia of social interaction which affects between 10-15% of people in the community at any one time … and that is probably the tip of the iceberg because many of those people won’t seek help for it.
So what does social anxiety really feel like and how can you help yourself if you’re a sufferer?
“I don’t think people realise how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself”
That kind of sums it up, because it’s not easily defined or categorized. Many people who try to describe their feelings of anxiety, however, use the vocabulary of fear – ‘dread’, ‘terror’, ‘distress’. Imagine what it would be like to experience those sort of emotions on a frequent basis … and you’re some of the way to understanding how anxiety feels. Add physical sensations such as sweating, palpitations, a tightening of the chest …. and you can begin to see how scary anxiety really is.
Often when people are anxious about a situation, they avoid it – this may help in the short term because the scary situation is removed. By avoiding social situations, though, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to have positive social interaction …. You are ‘proving’ to yourself that you’re not capable of facing up to your fears or of having positive social experiences … setting up a negative self-image.
So what can you do to help yourself overcome this?
- Challenge your unhelpful thoughts – remember thoughts represent YOUR PERCEPTIONS – they are not necessarily representative of life as it really is. You might think that everyone thinks you’re an idiot, for example, but where is the evidence for that? Why would somebody think that? Don’t assume what everybody else is thinking when you simply don’t know – you’re not a mind reader!
- Try to avoid ‘what if’ questions, focusing on the negative – ‘what if’s are things we have no idea of knowing! ‘What if I have an amazing time?’ is just as valid as ‘What if I have a terrible time?’
- Give yourself the same advice that you would give to a friend – don’t judge yourself more harshly than you would judge someone else – why use a different criteria for yourself?
- Try to view events and situations in a balanced and rational way – remind yourself that you’ve confronted fears before and overcome them – you CAN do it again.
- Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ It may be that you don’t enjoy the party … can you cope with that if it happens? Chances are that you can. Now the best thing – that you have a great time. The opportunity for the positive usually outweighs the small chance of the negative.
- Lastly, be brave! Once you start to realise that you CAN overcome a fear, that there is the opportunity for positive experiences, the fear subsides.
Anxiety is a massive problem for many people. When you feel anxious about everyday life, your world really does reduce in size. It’s difficult to embark on new adventures and experiences, when you are struck down with nerves just at the thought of catching a bus or bumping into someone you know on the street. Many people can actually be afraid of anxiety itself; if you have ever had a panic attack, for example, you will have experienced first-hand that horrible feeling of imminent death or doom, accompanied by physical symptoms which are similar to those of heart attacks. And, if you have been there, chances are you never want to go there again. There’s no doubt that anxiety can be frightening and threatening.
What isn’t mentioned so much, is that anxiety also affects family and friends – who want to help but often just don’t know how to.
The ‘Just snap out of it’ mentality is clearly NOT helpful … so what is?
- Be a listening ear for your partner or friend. Some people like to share their feelings, others don’t. Being there for someone doesn’t mean badgering them to off load if they don’t want to! But if you make it clear that you are there if they need you, that you won’t judge them and that your opinion of them won’t change … then that is worth so much to someone. Don’t assume that they know they can come to you – spell it out and then leave it up to them.
- Spend quality time with them… just being there, being a friend is often enough.
- Be available … knowing someone is just a phone call away is a comfort.
- Encourage new activities and experiences. Someone with anxiety is more likely to try new things with a trusted friend or partner. Exercise is a great way to alleviate anxiety – and you’re more likely to stick to it if you do it with someone else.
- Express pride at small steps – emphasise the positive rather than criticising avoidance or irrational fears and behaviours.
- Never judge.
- Don’t assume you know what someone needs – offer help and listen to what they want, rather than simply doing what you think they need.
- Don’t pretend to understand how anxiety or panic attacks feel if you have never experienced them. Being genuine is key to helping someone. In the same way, try not to become frustrated … but, if you do lose your temper one day, it’s not the end of the world if you have an open conversation about how you are feeling too. You’re only human.
- Encourage treatment but don’t push.
- Ask for help and support yourself if you need it. There are some great support groups out there for carers and family of people who are facing mental health challenges. You’re a good friend or partner BUT you’re not a nurse – you have needs too. Don’t let your friendship become too one-sided.
Your help and support is so important to someone with anxiety – just being there, being a friend makes all the difference!
Any parent with children born in the last 20 years or so will recognise the literary phenomenon (!) that is Horrid Henry and his ‘perfect’ brother Peter. For those readers who don’t, basically Perfect Peter, as he is dubbed, is this amazingly good child who never puts a foot wrong. He is clever, well-behaved, polite and … well, just perfect in every conceivable way possible. Is he the most interesting character in the book? – no; Does he has the most fun? – no; Is he the happiest character? – no; Is he the most likely to suffer from anxiety-related issues? – YES …maintaining perfection is just REALLY hard work!
Because perfectionism is not good for us … perfect’ is an adjective which doesn’t reflect reality, yet it is thrust upon us frequently, inviting us to fail at every turn. Sadly, many of us buy into the allure of the ‘perfect’ and wonder why we feel so much anxiety trying to reach it … and so disappointed with ourselves when we don’t.
Targets, objectives, assessments, performance management at work, for example, can all conspire to set parameters for us which can add to pressure and actually be counter-productive. There’s no harm in striving to do well, of course, but often targets are set in an unrealistic way which set people up to fail. Sometimes, it can be a simple as being straight with your boss and saying that you need a bit more time for something. Or just having the strength to say ‘No’ for once. Funnily enough, I left a profession heavily reliant on targets … only to make my own targets for myself in my own business. The difference is that my targets are realistic and, although sometimes challenging, achievable. I also changed my mind-set … ‘failure’ became an opportunity to do something in a different way, a step towards a goal rather than reaching it immediately.
The workplace is just one area where we try to live up to sometimes unrealistic expectations. How many of the women reading this, are working mums …..trying to be the perfect employee AND the perfect mum?? Yes, it’s true that, as women, we can have a great career and a family these days but do we have to be ‘perfect’ at both? Of course not! Do we allow ourselves to shrug it off, dust ourselves down and try again when it all goes tits up? Not as often as we should!
So how do we fight against the Perfectionism myth and minimise anxiety …?
- Strive to ‘do your best’ rather than achieve perfection … unless you are super-human, the latter really isn’t achievable on an everyday basis.
- Be realistic when setting yourself targets or expectations and sometimes have the courage to question the expectations given to you by other people. Work out what is possible … and what isn’t and be prepared to stick to that if necessary. You might surprise yourself by achieving much more – and that’s a wonderful bonus!
- Try to strike a balance between what you want to achieve and accepting what is – there is still room for ambitious hopes and dreams but everything isn’t black and white and it’s perfectly acceptable to reach a compromise.
- Break down your targets into small steps – that way you’ll feel that you’re achieving lots of things along the way to your final destination. Rome wasn’t built in a day … good things take time!
- Most of all, be kind to yourself. You are amazing just the way you are – perfection is way over-rated!!
Judith, Bluebell Therapy
It’s that time of year – almost British Summer Time, the occasional ray of sun peeking out from behind the gloom and of course, holiday adverts on the telly! For lots of people, the thought of that week in Spain signifies a bit of excitement, enough to keep them going through the unpredictability of Spring weather in the UK. But for others, it can mean anything from a surge of anxiety to the resignation of yet another holiday in Cornwall. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cornwall … but it’s nice to think that you can dance the tango in Buenos Aires too if you want to!
Flying really is a big issue for many people. It can prey on our vulnerability – anxieties and fears about death, natural disaster, and nowadays, even terrorism … it’s not surprising that it’s one of the most common phobias. And it’s multi-faceted, with elements of claustrophobia, vertigo and agoraphobia – it really is a catch-all phobia!
Sufferers describe the feeling of terror as ‘paralysing’ …. Fear of the process of flying and also anxiety that the fear will take over and cause public loss of control.
So what can you do to help yourself?
- Tell your travel companions if they don’t already know … they will want to support you. It also means that, if you have a panic attack, you can prep them as to the best things they can do to calm you down and you won’t feel so embarrassed about it.
- Practice ‘grounding yourself’ – noticing 5 things that you can see, hear, touch, etc in your environment. This can help you if you’re feeling anxious or panicky but focusing on your surroundings can also help you to divert your attention so that you remain calm in the first place.
- In the same way, engage with those around you – have a chat to your friends and family, acknowledge your anxiety but don’t focus on it, instead re-direct your attentions into something else – activities such as puzzles, reading etc will help you to take your mind off your fears.
- Try deep breathing, exhaling slowly in a controlled way. A good way to practice this is with some bubble mixture. To be able to blow big bubbles, you need to blow out slowly and gently. I often use bubble mixture to enable young clients to practice their calm breathing but adults can do it too. It’s not silly if it helps and no one sees you practicing at home!
- Just reciting statistics to someone to ‘prove’ that flying is safe just doesn’t work – if it did, then no one would be fearful of flying. Phobias just don’t work like that. Hypnotherapy, however, is a fantastic way to overcome fear of flying. A therapist will take you through every element of the journey (from booking the holiday to landing!), replacing the fear with feelings of relaxation. It really does work!
In the words of a recent client:
“I can’t thank Judith enough. Every year, we book a holiday because I don’t want to let the family down. I worry for months before we go and while we’re there, I worry about the journey home! This year, I’m looking forward to it. I’m feeling excited about the whole thing and we’re even planning an extra weekend away. I’m no longer limited by my fear and it feels liberating! Thank you”
If you’d like hypnotherapy for your phobia, please contact me at
www.bluebell-therapy.co.uk or call 07599136677.