What is happening in your body when you take a deep breath?
It’s totally normal to feel stressed out! Maybe it’s hard to sleep the night before a big test at school, or you feel a little shaky before a big game. Stress can help us respond better in the face of an emergency, but it can be an uncomfortable feeling during daily life.
Either way, stress is no fun when we want to feel relaxed and peaceful. One way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling overwhelmed is to focus on breathing and distract our brains. Taking slow deep breaths helps to tell our body that it is time to relax.
• Identify what is happening in the brain during stress and how it affects the body
• Create bubbles to use to help focus on breathing during times of worry or stress
Key Vocabulary: Stress, brain, brain waves
The Neuroscience Behind Stress
- Brainwaves are produced by electrical pulses from neurons communicating with each other
- During a stressful event, the brain sends distress signals to alert the body of danger, creating most of the physical stress responses we are familiar with, including:
- increased heart rate
- rush of adrenaline
- deeper oxygen intake
- heightened senses.
- The body also produces increased cortisone, a hormone that helps replace all the energy lost from the event. When the stressful event is over, the level of cortisone drops and the body returns back to normal – this quick change adds to the intense feelings in the body.
- Sometimes, anxiety might cause tightness in the chest or shortness of breath. This may be because the body is actually taking in too much air as the body prepares to “react” to the danger.
- Focusing on breathing can help relax the brain and body by restoring the balance between the levels of oxygen being taken in and carbon dioxide being expelled.
- Although we don’t have control over the chemical response, there are things we can do with our bodies to relieve stress, reduce cortisone levels, and relax. These include:
- Focused breathing techniques
- Taking a bath or shower
- Listening to music
- Guided visualization
- Going for a walk with a friend or family member
- And more!
Kid Friendly Language:
- The brain controls all of our feelings and actions – it does this by sending “messages” to other parts of the brain and the body.
- During an emergency, the brain helps us prepare by sending lots of messages telling us to breathe faster, tense up muscles, and make your pulse faster – all things that would help us survive if we had to flee or respond to danger.
- When we are feeling stressed out, our brains send those same messages that make our bodies feel really active.
- There are other chemicals in the brain during stress that increase our energy. That’s why it’s normal to feel things in your body when you are stressed out, like your heart beating faster. It’s all from different messages being sent in the brain.
- Everyone feels stress differently. Your stomach might hurt, or you might have trouble sleeping. These are all normal, but you can always ask your teacher, parent, caregiver or another adult for help.
- There are things we can do to change the messages like:
- Yoga or meditation
- Using a calm down jar
- Taking a walk
- Talking to a friend, a sibling, or a loved one
- Chewing gum or playing with play-dough
- What else works for you?
- For the Bubbles:
- Dish Soap
- Measuring cups/spoons
- Spoon or other object for stirring
- Bowl or other container for mixing
- For the Bubble Wand:
- Empty clean plastic water bottle or pipe cleaners
- Connect to prior knowledge:
- Ask: What are some things that make you feel stressed?
- Explain: Stress is a normal part of our lives! Our brains control everything we do by sending different kinds of messages – When we are feeling relaxed, our brain sends one kind of message. But if we are worried about something, it’s a different kind that can make our bodies start feeling different things, like our heart might beat a little faster, or we might sweat a little. One of the things we can do to feel a little better and change the messages our brains are sending is to focus on deep, slow breathing.
- Get a large cup or bowl. Measure out ½ cup of dish soap and pour into the cup or bowl.
- Add 1 ½ cups of water to the cup or bowl.
- Measure out 2 teaspoons of sugar and add it to the water/soap mixture.
- Gently stir your mixture together to dissolve some of the sugar.
- Using adult assistance/supervision, gather materials for your bubble wand. If you have pipe cleaners around, fold the top of your pipe cleaner to make a circle at the top (or a heart, you can experiment with different shapes!). If you have an empty plastic water bottle, ask an adult to help you cut off the bottom of the bottle.
- Practice blowing the bubbles while taking slow, big, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and feel your belly fill with air, then slowly let it out through your mouth to blow some bubbles.
As with all activities, adult supervision is strongly recommended.
- What have you heard about stress or worry?
- What are some things that make you feel better when you are stressed?
- Practice using different materials or shapes for your bubble wands!
- Try to think of other activities using deep breaths and see how many you can come up with. For example, find a flower nearby and practice taking deep breaths by breathing the pretty smell in through your nose and slowly breathing out through your mouth.
Check it out!