Slowing down, breathing, feeling calm

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What does that mean?  Well, it’s a bit like slowing down the whizzing and whirring of your mind OR taking a little holiday away from that busyness.

 

Have you ever felt like?:

  • You can’t quite catch your breath?  

  • Your stomach is doing somersaults and making you feel sick?  

  • Your skin has pins and needles all over it or feels itchy?  

  • Your legs or knees feel all jumpy?  

These kinds of feelings usually come from thoughts, your body is reacting to what’s going on in your mind.  There are lots of different ways to help you manage this and take control back over your body.  I’m going to share some ideas with you in this article.  

 

The main thing to remember is that these are tools that you will need to practise; the more you use them, the easier they get to do and the faster they help you to get back into the driving seat of your mind and body.  When you feel the physical effects of what your brain is thinking (like in the bullet points above), your central nervous system is taking over.  Using good relaxation techniques helps you to control the feelings that have caused this chain reaction.  You can read more about this in the article called ‘I feel Anxious’ if you’re interested in finding out more.

Mindfulness – slowing everything down

 

Have you heard of something called ‘mindfulness’? 

It’s about noticing what is happening right now, in your body, your brain and in all of your senses – hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste.  

 

Really focusing on what is happening to you in the here and now can help you to concentrate. 

Practising being mindful every day helps you to pay more attention to yourself and notice thoughts and feelings.  For example, wherever you are reading this right now, take a minute, look around and notice:

  • what you can see?

  • what you can hear?

  • what can you smell?  

 

Now let yourself notice:

  • How your body feels – is it calm, relaxed, fidgety, tense, are you comfortable?

  • How your clothes feel – are they loose, tight, hot, warm?

  • How your brain feels – is it calm, racing, full of thoughts, tired, empty?

 

It can feel a bit weird to sit and just allow yourself to ‘be’ in the moment, but with practise, it can really bring benefits of calmness and ways to manage when you feel overwhelmed with tough emotions or overloaded with stress, worry or anger.  Being able to focus and concentrate can have lots of really positive impacts on your friendships, family relationships and even help you to achieve more with sports, school, music or in other hobbies or interests.  

 

Doing regular Mindfulness activities is a way to exercise your brain – making it strong.  

When you exercise your brain, you help it to create new neural pathways so you can change the way you think and behave.  If you feel like you stress quite easily or big feelings get on top of you a lot (and many people do feel like this!) then some of the ideas in this article could be helpful to you to try something different and create those new pathways in your brain (for any geeks like me out there, this is what neuroplasticity is all about ☺).

 

Okay, so you know what mindfulness is, what now?

 

Well there are literally 100’s (if not 1000’s) of ways to do this.  Mindfulness is a bit of an umbrella term and includes things like we’ve mentioned above about changing the way your brain thinks but also stuff around:

  • holding your thoughts

  • breathing

  • anchoring/grounding

  • looking for the positive things in life

 

It is often the case that people find one particular area better for them to use or understand and not others, so it’s really up to you to give things a go and see what does and doesn’t work.  

 

Let’s break each of these areas down a bit more….

Holding your thoughts

 

These exercises can help your mind to feel calm and still.  It is not unusual for people to find it pretty hard to do at first, but practising (every day if you can or at least a few times a week) will make this feel easier and become more of a habit for you.

 

 

  • A Mindful Walk => this probably sounds a bit funny, but if you like being outdoors, making yourself really notice what is around you using as many of your senses as you can (hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste) is a brilliant way to help yourself feel calm and peaceful.  Here’s what you do:

    • Stand up ready to walk, take in a few really deep breaths (see some of the breathing ideas below).  Feel your body relaxing from head to toe

    • Smile … this action tells your brain that you are about to do something you can enjoy (it really does!)

    • As you set off walking, focus on each step as you lift your foot up and then place it back down again – really tune into what your feet are doing.  If you are not walking on feet, then really focus on the sound of the feet of the person with you or the noise and sensation of the wheels underneath you as you travel forward

    • Notice how you are breathing, how the breath feels in your chest as you move

    • Every couple of minutes, stop and notice one thing – a flower, a leaf, a bird, a tree, a stone, a stick, running water, the wind; anything that you can see, hear, feel or imagine is nearby.  Pause, spend a few moments just to experience what you have noticed

    • If you feel your mind wandering and that you are thinking about other stuff, that’s OK, just bring it back to notice where you are and what is around you

    • Continue on with this until you feel calm and settled

 

You can do this kind of mindful walk anywhere at any time.

Breathing

OK, I know you know how to breathe☺  In mindfulness, being aware of how you are breathing is important, because if you notice it changing, you can do something about it if you need to. 

 

These exercises can help you control your breathing if you feel very worried, panicked or angry.

  

Flower & Leaf breathing (also good for very young children, age 3-5)  

 

  1. Imagine you have a flower in front of you, breathe beautiful scent in deeply through your nose

  2. Then breathe out hard, like you are blowing a leaf away

  3. Repeat three times


 

Balloon breathing (also good for young children, age 4-8)

  • Imagine there is a balloon in your tummy.  Take a big, deep breath in through your nose … 

  • As you do this, try to fill up that balloon so that your tummy puffs up

  • Now breathe out through your mouth (like blowing a bubble) and let all of the air out of the balloon

  • Take slow breaths whilst you do this, try to count to four as you breathe in and again to 4 as you breathe out, like this:

 

  • Inhale (breathe in), 2, 3, 4 …

 

  • Exhale (breathe out), 2, 3, 4 …

 

  • Repeat this until you feel calmer

 

 

Star breathing (also good for young children, age 6-9)

You can draw a star on a piece of paper and trace your finger around each part as you go or imagine doing this with one in your head:

 

  • starting at any point of the star, breathe in as you trace up one side, hold at the top point, then breathe out as you trace down the side

  • breathe in as you trace up the next side, hold at the top point, then breathe out as you trace down that side

  • continue until you have followed the way all around the star

  • repeat if you wish

Take 5 Breathing (good for all ages). 

Find a comfortable seated position, rest one hand infront of you with your fingers splayed and take the pointing finger of your other hand ready to start tracing around:

  1. start at the base of your thumb on the outside of your hand, breathe in slowly through your nose as you slide your pointer finger up to the top of your thumb

  2. breathe out slowly and slide your finger down the inside of your thumb

  3. breathe in as you slide your finger up the outside of the next finger and breathe out as you trace down the other side

  4. continue breathing in and out as you trace your whole hand

  5. you can repeat this process if you wish

Anchoring/Grounding

Anchoring or grounding is the term given to helping yourself to feel safe in the present moment and connected to everything around you.  There are lots of ways you can do this and they are often about getting your brain to think about what each of your 5 senses can see, hear, touch, smell or taste.  

 

If you feel worry or panic, these kinds of exercises can be very helpful to do because they force the part of your brain that is sensible and calm to take back control from the part of your brain that’s losing control and sending you messages of panic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 54321 technique (good for all ages)

Look around you and notice:

  • 5 things you can see

  • 4 things you an hear

  • 3 things you can feel

  • 2 things you can smell or taste

  • 1 thing you like about yourself

 

You can say these things out loud or just to yourself using the inside voice in your head

 

Once you’ve been able to ‘ground’ yourself, you can focus on your breathing to get your heart rate to slow down to it's normal rate and calm your breath too (maybe by trying one or two of the breathing exercises above).  

ABC sights, sounds & smells (good for all ages)

Wherever you are, take a moment to look around you and in your head (or out loud) say what you can:

  • see or

  • hear or

  • smell

starting with A, then B, then C and carry on to see how far you can get down the alphabet.  

Give yourself a cuddle! (good for all ages)

Feeling a calming but firm pressure is helpful for grounding – and you don’t need anyone with you to do it!  It’s helpful to do this whilst thinking in your head (or saying out loud) “I am in control” or “I am safe right now”.  

As you’re saying or thinking this, place your left hand on your right shoulder and tap, then your right hand on your left shoulder and tap – take it in turns to tap each shoulder.  Then squeeze your hands around your shoulders for at least 20 seconds to give yourself a strong hug, go back to tapping your shoulders – one, two, three tap, then squeeze (minimum 20 seconds), back to one, two three, tap, then squeeze (minimum 20 seconds).

  

This process helps your brain to release a natural feel-good hormone called oxytocin - which increases feelings of contentment.

 

Connecting with yourself (good for all ages)

Sometimes, when things happen that make us feel very strong emotions, it can make us feel a bit lost. 

 

When we feel very sad, worried, angry, anxious (or other big feelings) a lot of the time, every day, our brains can feel a bit foggy and it’s hard to concentrate. 

 

Running through some simple reminders in your head (or out loud) can be helpful – in counselling, we call this “re-orientation”. 

 

Examples could be that you finish off these sentences and you repeat them back to yourself until you feel calmer and more settled:

  • My name is…

  • I am … years old

  • I am in… (place that you are)

  • Today's date is…

  • My birthday is on…

  • The season is…

  • The weather is…

  • I am wearing…

Looking for the positive things in life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some people find it helpful to focus on the really nice things in life, or things that they feel grateful for or happy about.  This is known as a gratitude exercise and there are lots around on the internet – here’s an example of one:


A Gratitude Scavenger Hunt

  1. Find something that makes you happy

  2. Find something to give to someone else, to make them happy

  3. Find one thing that you love to smell

  4. Find one thing that you enjoy looking at

  5. Find something that is in your favourite colour

  6. Find something you are thankful for in nature

  7. Find something you can use to make a gift for someone

  8. Find something that is useful for you

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So, what do you think?   I wonder if you can see yourself using any of these.  I would encourage you to have a little go with any of these that you like the sound of.  

These are all possible tools to help you promote a calm, relaxed mind.  They can be really useful when you feel stressed, anxious, panicked, worried or just not yourself.

 

Sometimes just having one or two sessions can be enough to help you learn new ways of thinking and practising these when you are feeling good and calm are great ways to create new habits.  That way, when you really do need them you can use them quickly and easily.  I'd love to hear from you if you want to explore any of this further. 

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