Three deep breaths

Published 6:21 am Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sheila Berger

Sumner Elementary Principal

If you have ever been upset, you know that the last thing you want is someone giving you the friendly advice to “calm down.” In fact, if you have ever offered that advice, you may have received some choice words in return.

Email newsletter signup

Students at Sumner Elementary have been trained that their “upstairs” brain, the part that controls their thinking, controls their “downstairs” brain, the part that controls their feelings. When you are upset, your “downstairs” brain is running the show and can result in poor choices that make the situation worse.

Sumner Principal Sheila Berger

Your amygdala, which is the part of your brain that sends fight, flight, or freeze messages to your body, is in the “downstairs” brain. Many times, the amygdala’s quick response to a situation winds up causing us more problems because we don’t get the time to process the situation before reacting. Indeed, when we become upset, we need to allow our brain time to move “upstairs” before we respond. Viktor Frankl states that “between the stimulus and response there is space.” For the “upstairs” brain to get a chance to think through the situation and then come up with a positive response, there must be a pause. In a challenging moment, remember the phrase “when in doubt, close your mouth and take a breath.”

This strategy is one that can be implemented at any place and any time. Sumner students use breathing strategies throughout the day to help their “upstairs” brain remain in control. Each morning, students start their day by collectively taking three deep breaths during the morning announcements. The staff uses a chime to signal students that it is time to do our breathing. Throughout the day, staff may chime when the atmosphere needs calming or when they want to transition to a new activity. Students are reminded every day to breathe any time they feel their amygdala take control. They may feel angry, sad, tired, excited, or anxious, but all these feelings can be managed by simply taking three deep breaths.

Breathing and moving from your “downstairs” brain to your “upstairs” brain can be an effective strategy for adults as well. Just think about how much nicer social media might be if we all remembered “when in doubt, close your mouth and take a breath.”