Breathing Helps You and Your Teen

Interacting with a troubled teen can increase our heart rate, blood pressure and make our breathing rather shallow. This is the way your body reacts to stressful situations. This is called the Fight or Flight response.

Your body works to get you ready to react in a stressful or survival situation. Not every conversation will spark this response. Some will turn it on immediately. Sometimes just the thoughts in your mind can bring on this response.

When we feel in danger our body wants to run away or to fight.

This happens to your teen too.

When your teen feels in danger or in a difficult conversation, the fight or flight response can be easily triggered. And with a developing brain, it can be much harder for a teen to use impulse control, make clear decisions or recognize the impact of their words.

Whether you or your teen are experiencing the fight or flight response, breathing can make a world of difference. The next time you are in a stressful situation, don’t speak. First, take a deep breath. This can be hard if your body is making you take shallow breaths to prepare to run. Take the deepest breath you can, even if it is just a little more than your shallow breath.

Your body can either experience Fight or Flight (the sympathetic nervous system response) or Rest and Relax (the parasympathetic nervous system response). You can only experience one of these at a time. Choose the Rest and Relax by deepening your breath.

Increasing your breath fills your lungs with oxygen, stimulating blood flow and decreasing anxiety and the stress hormone cortisol. A few deep breaths can be enough for your thinking to clear and to be able to rationally handle a situation, rather than from a place of fear.

Many programs for troubled teens understand these responses and actively teach teens how breathing can help to develop self-regulation. Executive functioning skills can be improved when problems are approached from a state of relax, rather than stress. Decision making, long-term planning and impulse control are all impacted when in a state of stress.

Start by practicing deep breathing yourself. You can do this by sitting or standing in one place, in a state of calm. Do it while driving, before bed, after a meal or while waiting in the line at a store. Push your belly out as you breathe air in for maximum effect. You will likely feel your shoulders fall and tension in your neck begin to loosen and you release your breath. A daily practice of deep breathing (even just for a few minutes a day) can make stressful situations easier to handle. When you are in a practice of deep breathing, you are more likely to remember this technique and do it automatically.

Your teen can benefit just as much from deep breathing. Watching you take control of yourself during stressful situations by deep breathing is modeling the behavior in a natural way. This is a wonderful way for your teen to learn how deep breathing can work. You can also talk to your teen directly about how their body and brain work together.

Speak with any staff that work with your child as well. When your teen has many models, it will be easier to see the benefits.

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