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With a breath. It’s counter-intuitive, but the very moment we need to breathe we stop! Think about a tense moment with a co-worker, a meeting that you are dreading, a conversation you are avoiding, or an impending fight (physical or not). We hold our breath. We deprive ourselves of the very thing we need to make good decisions. And, when we finally do breathe out, it is often with an avalanche of anger, resentment, regret, etc. Think about what we tell toddlers when they get angry–breathe and count to ten. What works for toddlers works for adults.

The problem with adults however is that we face so many moments of anxiety in our daily life that we don’t even notice. The result is a dangerous accumulation of negativity that could cause us to explode or implode.

First, recognize if you are in anxious state. If your heart begins to race; your face becomes hot; you begin sweating, your muscles tense or you are holding your breath, you are in a state of anxiety and you have to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way? What am I communicating (verbally and non-verbally) when I am in this state?” Even the memory of a negative situation may cause tension.

I hope that you are reading this text in a more relaxed state and take this opportunity to realize a few key points.

Key Point 1: The effects of anxiety.

When you are in fight/flight/freeze mode or are experiencing anxiety you are likely to do two things

  1. Stop breathing

  2. Tense up

The consequence of these two actions, usually involuntary, results in restricted blood flow and less blood flow to the brain. Less blood flow means less oxygen. Your brain is being deprived of oxygen. How can you expect to make decisions that are good, rational, and free of racial/gender/class/sexual orientation bias?

To not acknowledge this process is to not acknowledge your humanity thereby robbing yourself of dignity and forgiveness of your self when you make mistakes. And, as mentioned above, there is a cumulative effect to all of this which often results in a negative self-image, melancholy, depression, and poor diet (more on this in a future blog).

How to overcome this? Simple.

Step 1: Start breathing

Breathe in silently through your nose and out through your mouth. This simple exercise will begin a chain reaction that will calm you down. We tell children all the time to take a breath—sometimes WE (the adults) need to take a breath.

  1. Practice doing this when you are not in a heightened emotional state so that you get good at it. As a side effect, you may see some effect on your overall health such as better sleeping and lower blood pressure. (I am not making any health claims—I’m not a doctor).

  2. If you are having trouble remembering to do this, have something on your person that can cue you in a tense situation. I had a ring that I would spin when I got tense which cued me to begin breathing. I have also used rubber bands on my wrist to pop myself back into breathing.

Step 2: Be Present

Once you begin breathing again pay attention to your breath. This will cue your awareness. Then begin paying attention to everything around: what you see, hear, smell, and feel on your skin, how the other person is moving, breathing or speaking. Soon you will realize that you are not being attacked and you will be able to make better decisions. There is no shortcut to this practice and self-awareness in the moment is crucial to your classroom management, dealings with agitated students, or tense situations.

Step 3: Movement

Look for places in your body where you are still tense and release the tension by shaking or moving that part of your body. Common places to carry or express tension are in your hands, neck, jaw, and eyebrows. You could also look into acupuncture, massage, cupping, or trying a martial art that pays attention to breath work–it so happens that we do that here at Movement Theory.

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