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Your body is naturally built to handle stress. Stress is any demand that is placed on your brain and body. An event occurs, and your body reacts, but then the body settles down. This is a natural part of our autonomic nervous system, the Sympathetic Nervous System or Fight or Flight mode. Think of it as the gas peddle on your car. It is the part of our nervous system that helps us deal with danger or a threat.

Having a child diagnosed with cancer creates ongoing struggle and feelings of fear and worry for everyone in the family. This ongoing stress can morph into anxiety. This happens when things are beyond our control when the mind goes to the past and to the future. This situation keeps your body in the Fight or Flight mode. Imagine an unbalanced teeter totter, one side has overwhelm sitting on the seat and the other side has calm on the seat.

Overwhelm is taking over. Finding relief from Fight or Flight can be difficult when you have a foggy brain from lack of sleep, many appointments, other children to care for, and so much unknown. So bringing awareness to one of the most natural things you do, can help significantly. It does not take much to help bring your body into a little more balance. Utilizing your breath can change the
way your body functions.

Your Parasympathetic Nervous System or Rest and Digest mode, helps to calm the body. Now, imagine the brake on your car. This allows for the body to slow itself and receive input that it is safe in the moment. It allows for smoother functioning of bodily systems, such as sleep and digestion, to name a few. Revisit the teeter-totter… this system helps balance out the gas peddle (overwhelm) and bring some balance (calm) to your body.

Diaphragmatic Breathing: This is a very simple breath technique. The belly expands as you begin to take deeper breaths. However, do not force this breath. Kindness to yourself here is key. You may decide to place your hands on the abdomen to actually feel the breath move the belly. As your exhale arrives, the abdomen contracts, and the air slowly reverses direction. Extending the exhale is what helps to put on the brake and calm the nervous system.

Of note, it is important to say that when you are under significant stress and/or anxiety, you can take very shallow breaths in the upper chest. So this breath may take a little while to get used to performing. Be kind to yourself and practice with patience. Understandably, this is difficult when you feel upset, but know that you’re doing your best just trying.

  • Welcome a tall, upright posture to create more space in the torso for your breath to enter and exit.
  • Having a small change of scenery can be a game-changer. If you’re in a hospital room, go in the hallway or family room. Perhaps outside if that is accessible. However, practicing this breath right where you are is always perfect. If you’re comfortable, maybe closing your eyes or having a soft, downward gaze can help bring your mind inward toward the breath without as many distractions.
  • Welcome any feelings in your body. Feel your feet on the floor. Hips on the chair. Arms in your lap. Your body can become numb when faced with heavy overwhelm. Notice areas of tension or pain and offer these spaces your compassion.
  • To practice this breath pattern, invite in the breath for a count of 3-4. Notice the belly expand. Exhale for the same count. Notice the belly contract. As you practice, see if you are able to extend your exhale. Inhale for 3-4 counts. Exhale for 6-8 counts. Practice making the exhale twice as long as the inhale.
  • Perform 2-3 minutes at a time, and as frequently as you’d like, to help keep your body at ease. You cannot use this breath too much.

Some tips from Jen

Jen Herndon is a Yoga Therapist and Yoga and Grief Yoga® Teacher. She is a Grief Educator and has been an inpatient rehabilitation-based Physical Therapist Assistant for 29 years. Grief Yoga®’s mission statement: Using yoga, movement, breath and sound to help address pain and struggle. This makes space for more empowerment and love. Please consider joining me at the link below for Rise: A Healing Community.

If you find stress and/or anxiety is interfering immensely with your everyday life, you may wish to speak to a professional counselor for
ongoing support. As a yoga therapist, together, we seek out the best route for you to journey down to manage your specific situation as it evolves. Options include yoga movements, breath practices, meditation, visualizations, and practices of connection.