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Just Breathe

It’s September and the start of a school year that is riddled in the unknown because of COVID-19. Teachers, parents, and students all need to contend this year with an unprecedented rise of uncertainty and flexibility. Do you feel the stress already?

Stress, in it of itself, is not a bad thing. Stress will pump your body full of hormones like adrenaline to help you through challenging situations through the fight or flight response. However, chronic stress can be detrimental to your physical, mental, and emotional health. Stress manifests in different ways for different people. It’s important to recognize how you manifest stress so you can have awareness and proactively address it. Why? Because stress begets stress. It builds on itself, creating anxiety and reducing your threshold to handle additional challenges. If you are stressed in one area of your life, it will likely make you feel more stressed in other areas of your life.

Symptoms of stress can manifest in emotional, physical, mental, and behavioral responses. Speaking for myself, if I am stressed, I can be easily frustrated, prone to tears, overwhelmed, doubtful of myself and my abilities, my energy and threshold to deal with new challenges becomes compromised, I worry (a lot), I struggle to focus, and I will chronically pick at my nails as a nervous habit. In the short run, stress can pump me up. I get invigorated sometimes with an upcoming deadline, which can be fueled by adrenaline in the short term. If I’m chronically stressed, then I can freeze, suddenly letters on my keyboard turn into mental alphabet soup instead of words and ideas. Long term stress can lead to dire consequences, including cardiovascular disease, depression, gastrointestinal distress, and worst case scenario, cancer.

What I have found to help me more than any other strategy in dealing with stress is to take a minute. Literally, I mean sixty seconds. I close my eyes and focus on my breath.

In that one minute, I feel my heart rate go down. If I am filled in a negative emotional space, like anger or sadness, I can feel the negative emotions dissipate. After that minute, I can open my eyes to find my stressors still here, but I get into the mental, emotional, physical, and psychological space to handle it.

A guided meditation I use daily goes like this:

Step 1: Close your eyes. Closing your eyes is key because you want to turn off the distractions.

Step 2: Place one hand over your heart and the other on your belly.

Step 3: Take a slow deep breath in and count to six. By counting in your mind, you are able to channel your focus instead of thinking about the stressors. Feel your chest rise and your belly expand.

Step 4: Hold your breath for a count of three.

Step 5: Slowly exhale to a count of six. Feel your chest fall and your belly contract.

Step 6: Repeat.

If you literally have only one minute, you can set a timer on your phone. If not, continue counting and breathing until you feel yourself return to calmness.

School leaders, if you invest sixty seconds and open PLCs and other meetings with a breathing exercise, you will find your teachers and staff in a much more relaxed headspace to meet the challenges to come.

Teachers, if you invest sixty seconds and open your classes with a breathing exercise, it sets the tone for the class. If you invest sixty seconds on yourself before classes to count your breaths, you will find that your patience and outlook will be much improved.

Parents, if you invest sixty seconds and just breathe when your child tests your patience, your response will more likely come from a place of love than frustration.

Everyone, if you start your day before getting out of bed by counting your breaths for sixty seconds, you will notice improvements in your response to life stressors.

This is a technique that can be practiced nearly anytime, anywhere. While driving to work, I would often count breaths. Of course, I would keep eyes open for safe driving, but being aware of my breaths would center me before walking into the school building. It is an easy practice that requires no financial investment, no significant time investment, and can pay off in dividends through stress reduction.

I challenge you to take the next thirty days to practice mindful breathing. Do it when you wake up. Do it at different points during the day when you know you’ll need to be at full strength. Do it consistently for thirty days and let me know what changes you notice with respect to your ability to manage stress in your life.


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