SEL Tip: Just Breathe

Taking a deep breath isn’t just for difficult moments. This simple soothing strategy can help us and our students any time we need it.
 

Our 4Rs curriculum includes a popular activity called Stop-Breathe-Think, which helps students respond to moments when their anger is triggered or they feel a conflict brewing. We suggest that students recognize their difficult feelings, then stop, breathe, and think about how they can best handle them.
 
Over the years, I’ve helped many teachers and students as they practice the Stop-Breathe-Think intervention in their own lives, both in and out of the classroom.  While it is helpful to breathe in response to difficult feelings or moments of conflict,  it has occurred to me that we could all be breathing a whole lot more. In fact, sometimes just breathing is all we need to feel more connected to ourselves, our peers, and our social environment.  
 
All of us experience moments in our lives where there may not be particularly difficult feelings or conflict, but there may be unrest of some kind. A student may feel anxious about where they should stand in line. A teacher may feel confused about an unscheduled meeting with the principal. A parent may feel anxious about discussing their child’s academic struggles. Any of us might feel left out of a gathering of friends that didn’t include us. We are all managing our basic needs for respect, love, belonging, safety, and security, and from time to time we feel moments of unrest about getting these needs met.
 
When we see students struggle with these minor moments of unrest, we often have the urge to comfort them. For example, we may want to put a hand on their shoulder. But we can also teach them to comfort themselves.  And if they can comfort and calm themselves during these moments, there will be less of a chance that their feelings will escalate into a larger and more difficult moment of conflict or distress.
 
One of the easiest ways to address these moments is to use physical touch to create a safe personal space where we can breathe with ourselves and for ourselves. Adults and children alike can learn to do this. It’s easy and can be done anywhere and at any time.
 
Just Breathe 
 
1. Close your eyes, place your hand on your heart, and feel the warmth of your own touch.
2. Breathe gently and deeply while you keep your hand resting on your heart. 
3. Allow your own touch to calm you as you breathe deeply for 3-5 breaths. 
4. Gently return to what you were doing with a renewed sense of calm.