Kids with Anxiety Part 1: The Breath

November 2, 2016

I received my first question! It’s about how to help a pre-teen with anxiety. I’m writing this blog with a child in mind, but all three of these techniques work for just about any age, including adults.

Hi Rhonda!! I love your blog idea! … Listen, one thing happened today and I need some advice on how I could help him, preferably with yoga:
My son (now 9) is very sensitive and anxious (just like myself). Today, he has heard wild stories of those “horror clowns” and this freaked him out. He hardly watches TV and he is not interested in social media so most/all of this is going on in his mind…How can I ease his uneasiness with the evil he hears of in school etc.? Any good tips that work for kids of his type?Thank you!! S

Thank you for writing to me!  It is common for a child with anxiety to have a parent with anxiety.  My daughter, my mother, my sister, and my grandmother have all dealt with anxiety and depression.  Practicing anxiety busting techniques together may help both of you!  In order for these techniques to be effective, they need to be practiced for a few minutes every day when the child is not upset or anxious.  This helps kids learn the techniques and connect them with calmness and good times.

The first area to help a child with anxiety is the breath.  Before we can address the current trigger (scary clowns), we must first help your son to relax.  For anxiety, we want to make the exhale longer than the inhale because a elongated exhale tells our brain that we’re safe.  If our brain thinks we’re safe, it stops releasing stress hormones.  There are lots of different types of breath that have a longer exhale, but there are three that I would recommend for kids with anxiety:  counting breath, ha breath, and Kaki breath.

Counting breath is exactly what it sounds like.  The child counts the length of her inhale and her exhale, breathing in and out through the nose.  Slowly she tries to lengthen her exhale so it’s twice as long as her inhale.  For example, if she inhales for a count of four, then she will gradually lengthen her exhale to a count of 8.  She can continue breathing in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 8 until she feels calm. This breath is great for busting anxiety because of the focus on the lengthened exhale.  Focusing on counting the length of the breath also gives the child’s brain something to do in order to shut down the worrying.

The next breath is ha breath.  For this breath, the child breathes in deeply and then breathes out slowly with a “haaa” sound, like a long sigh.  Inhale through the nose, open the mouth and exhale making a long “haaaa” sound.  The child can repeat this breath until he feels calm. This breath also concentrates on extending the exhale and calming the nervous system.  The slight vibration of the sound also helps in calming anxiety.

For older kids who may want to be more private about their anxiety, Jodi Geoghan, advanced therapeutic yoga teacher, says you can use this breath in public without anyone realizing it by pretending there’s something stuck on your phone screen.  Kids can inhale through their nose and then exhale their ha breath onto the phone or i-pod screen.  They can then wipe the phone on their shirt or pants to finish “cleaning” it.  This way, it simply looks like he’s cleaning his phone, rather than dealing with his anxiety.

The last breath is Kaki breath (pronounced kŏ-kē) .  Kaki breath is like breathing through a straw. To beat anxiety, the child breathes in through the nose and out like she is holding a straw between her lips.  When the lips are pursed tightly, it slows down the rate of the exhale, telling the brain that she is safe so no more stress hormones are needed.  The child can hold her hand about 6 inches in front of her face and blow the air onto her hand.  This helps her to become aware of her breath and gives her something to focus on.

To help with the triggers for the anxiety, I recommend the book, How to Tame Your Thought Monster by Katie McClain. I don’t make any money off of the purchase of this book.  It’s just a great book that helps children, including my daughter, overcome anxious thoughts with a systematic and fun approach.  It’s great for grown-ups too!

Next time, I’ll share yoga poses to help kids with anxiety!

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