By now, there’s almost no chance that any adult suddenly thrown into schooling at home during a global crisis hasn’t had at least one moment of stress or anxiety. And while this is perfectly natural, it’s also in everyone’s best interest that we manage our feelings, and our reactions to our feelings, during this challenging time.
Emotional regulation is the ability to manage, or regulate, our emotions. Think of it like a thermostat that regulates the temperature of a room. When the outside temperature gets too hot, the thermostat comes in and lowers the temperature to a comfortable position. Regulating our emotions is similar. When outside influences cause our emotions to spike, we can learn strategies to regulate them back to a comfortable place.
The easiest, most accessible and most affordable (free!) way to regulate our emotions is through a breathing practice. There are hundreds of ways to incorporate mindful breathing into our daily lives, so you should be able to find one that works for you. If you’ve never done mindful breathing before, it can feel foreign and a little awkward to try the first time. So consider this option. Picture a square in your mind. Imagine that each of the four sides represents four seconds. Breathe in slowly for four seconds and use your finger to air-trace the top line of the box. Then hold your breath for four seconds as you draw down the right side of the box. Then breathe out for four seconds as you draw the bottom side of the box. Then hold for four seconds as you draw up the left side of the box. This is called “box breathing” and is a simple strategy you can try any time. Some people even tape boxes in different places around their home that they can trace.
An important tip about breathing or any emotional regulation strategy is that you’ll see benefits if you practice them frequently, especially when you’re feeling calm. If you practice breathing as a regular routine, maybe every morning when you wake up, during a break in the afternoon, or before bed each night, your body will be better equipped when you need to use these same strategies during a high-stress moment.