Breathing Techniques for Stress Management

In my last post I discussed why breathing is a wonderful tool to use for stress management. In this post I am going to highlight some breathing techniques that have worked wonderfully with the children in my classrooms. They have been so engaging that the children usually voluntarily perform the techniques on their own when they become stressed. Some of these techniques are adapted from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.

  • S.T.A.R. Breathing – S.T.A.R. stands for Smile, Take a deep breath, And Relax. The technique involves raising your arms up to the sky when you are breathing in and lowering them to your sides as you are breathing out. Pairing the movement to the breathing helps get blood flowing to the brain, as well.
  • Balloon Breathing – This breathing technique is bound to be a classroom favorite. The technique: interlace your fingers on top of your head. As you breathe in, raise your arms like you are inflating a balloon. As you exhale, purse your lips to make a ‘pfffft’ sound, similar to the sound a balloon makes when you let the air out.
  • Smell a Flower, Blow the Petals – Students should imagine that their finger is a flower and pretend to smell it as they inhale. Then, as they exhale, they should pretend that they are blowing the petals of the flower away.
  • Smell a Cookie, Blow the Soup – This technique is similar to ‘Smell a Flower, Blow the Petals’ except that students are pretending to smell a cookie and blow soup instead.

There are a couple of key things to remember when it comes to using breathing for stress management:

  • Encourage children to breathe slowly and be mindful of completely filling their lungs with air. One thing that I have learned to do is ask students to put one hand on their belly so that they can feel their stomach rise and fall with their breath. This will help them think about what happens as they breathe.
  • Sometimes children will try to perform the breathing exercises very quickly. While this is just as fun to do as the breathing techniques described above, there is very little stress management benefit from breathing quickly because the lungs do not fill all the way. One way to get children to slow down is to highlight the contrast to them: “Wow, you were breathing very fast! Now let’s see how slowly we can breathe.”

In my next post I will highlight some stress management techniques that emphasize movement.


Using Breathing to Relieve Stress

Breathing is the simplest and easiest stress management tool to use, but using breathing for stress management requires more than the type of breathing that we normally do throughout the day. When we become stressed our breathing becomes shallow. Some people even involuntarily hold their breath when they are under stress. The American Institute of Stress¬†states that “abdominal breathing for 20-30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and reduce stress. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a sense of calmness.” While we don’t have time to stop everything and practice deep breathing for 20 to 30 minutes every time¬†we run into a stressful situation, stopping long enough to take a couple of deep breaths is enough to move us away from the trunk of the car and toward the driver’s seat.

Because stress tends to build up over time, teachers should stop and breathe throughout the day. Because of this continual build-up of stress, some teachers find it helpful to conduct breathing exercises with the entire class at different periods throughout the day. Breathing before entering into particularly stressful periods of the day or difficult transition times, such as the period around lunch and nap time, can help ease the class through these transitions and create a more pleasant atmosphere for the children and the teachers.

Children are more likely to use breathing techniques that are fun and stimulating. In my next post I will highlight some breathing techniques that have been a big hit in my classroom.

Calming Down

The other day I had a child who was acting completely crazy. I have a cozy corner in my classroom that children can go to if they are upset and need a minute to calm down, so I told this child, “You are acting too wild. I need you to go over there and calm down.”

He went, and I glanced over a minute later and happened to see him – breathing! I couldn’t believe my eyes, in fact. I teach breathing exercises in our group setting all the time. It is a way to clear the stress, engage the brain, and bring focus to the group. I honestly don’t remember if I ever used the words, “Let’s calm down,” or any other phrasing like that in relation to the exercise. I think a few times I may have said, “I need to calm down. Who wants to breathe with me?”

To see this child voluntarily using breathing as a calming technique made my heart soar. I still can’t explain how he made the connection, but his use of breathing has caused it to be more widely used by myself and the other children. It is amazing to see the change that comes over the classroom when we engage in breathing together; everyone becomes calmer, more relaxed, and conversation takes a more engaging tone. Using breathing techniques to calm down and settle into an activity is a priceless stress-relieving tool, and I am glad that the children remind me of that every so often.