A Breath of Fresh Air: Deep Breathing Techniques

“Ryan!” I said to my three-year-old. “Take two breaths.”

My son, who had been spasming on the floor in the throes of a tantrum, scrambled to a standing position. He formed a little ‘o’ with his mouth, inhaled twice, and then looked up at me.

“Are you feeling better?” I asked gently.

“Yes,” he said, wiping his tears away with his pudgy wrists. “I just calmed down.”

Deep breathing techniques are as old as dirt, but I always marvel at how quickly they work for my son and me. I first learned of them from my therapist, who treated me for severe anxiety during and after my pregnancy. According to the article “Taming the Fight or Flight Response” by JoAnn Revak, anxiety is driven by a hypersensitivity to perceived threats. It is frequently caused by chemical imbalances, which is why comorbidity with other mental illnessses and traumas is so high.

One of the ways to dispel excess energy drummed up by the flight or fight response is to perform breathing exercises. The one I use and have taught my son goes like this:

1. Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
2. Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to three.
3. Hold for three-to-five seconds.
4. Release air through your mouth over a period of at least three seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me. What do you do to calm down?

Not meant to be taken as medical advice to replace that of your physician or therapist.

Author: Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs weekly at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. She also blogs monthly at the International Bipolar Foundation website (IPBF.org). Her work has been published in the anthology, How the Light Gets In. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.

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