Keep breathing to stay in control In stormy parenting waters
by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.
Your body has been given the signal to prepare to respond to a threat. If a real physical danger were present, you would be able to protect yourself by attack or retreat. When the emergency was over, an all-clear signal would be given, and your body would relax and return to its normal state.
In our modern times, we are constantly dealing with stress. Constant mental stress keeps our bodies in constant tension, which itself becomes a form of stress. You can handle stress by learning to cope with thoughts and events so they no longer are stressful. You can also learn to relax. When you practice relaxation, you are giving the all-clear signal. As you become better at giving the signal, you are able to trigger the relaxation response so that your body can return to its normal state.
Defiant children influence their parents to feel tension a lot of the time. When they don’t get what they want, they feel threatened, typically experiencing the same “fight or flight” response mentioned above. Unfortunately, for defiant children, this response seems to appear as “fight or fight even more.”
The fight-or-flight response affects each of us, as parents, differently. Depending on the person, it can cause sleep disturbance, fatigue, increased or decreased appetite, headaches, stomachaches, poor concentration, irritability, or overt emotional reactivity such as yelling. Following the well-known mind–body model, some diseases may be caused or made worse by chronic tension. It can also weaken our immune systems, making us more susceptible to colds and other infections. The following are two proven ways you can use to relax yourself and relieve some of that tension:
When you are tense, your breathing can become shallow and rapid. In fact, most of us do not breathe properly, tense or not. Improper breathing robs you of oxygen that purifies your body as well as helps your body produce energy.
Fortunately, learning to breathe properly is not difficult. Find a comfortable place to lie down. Place your hands on your abdomen just below your ribcage. Begin breathing slowly and deeply. If you are breathing properly, you will feel the expansion in the abdominal area before your ribcage expands. Spend five to ten minutes several times a day practicing your deep breathing. You will notice that as you become more proficient, your breathing will improve during your normal activities.
The beauty of this deep-breathing technique is that you can call upon an abbreviated form to use any time you’re feeling angry and want to yell. Taking a few deep breaths is a wonderful way to soothe yourself and set the stage to use other helpful strategies in conjunction with your breathing. And if you find yourself in an argument, you can also use it to calm down. Deep breathing can be used to prevent, lessen, and recover from emotional overloads and outbursts.