Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

I Just Breathed…Now What?

I just saw this short film reminding people (kids and adults) about how breathing deeply will reduce stress and help control anger. And while I agree that deep breathing is an effective tool for calming down, it is calming down that follows self-control not the other way around.

Emotions are powerful impulses but part of our maturation process is to learn how to modulate our reactions to these powerful impulses. Often we do this because we start recognizing the self-interested need for self-regulation or we start identifying the nuances of emotional impulses.

I'm not looking to get into an argument here but honestly all this breathing is kind of worthless for those who have little self-control. However deep breathing while reflecting on one’s intentions (contemplating, for instance, negative outcomes that might occur as a result of an emotional explosion) is a good start. Understanding the range of feelings packed in an emotional reaction is another key to activating some meaningful action during contemplative time.

Think of the difference between controlling light with an on-off switch versus a dimmer switch to get a sense of the impact recognizing emotional nuance. A powerful and simple resource to help develop such nuanced understanding students might need to modulate reactivity is a little thing I like to call language. What if, along with high frequency words, we also posted(and employed!!)  nuanced iterations of emotional words as well? All this deep breathing is essentially about dealing with this one emotion, so here are some synonyms for anger : enraged, exasperated, furious, indignant, irate, resentful, chafed, displeased, nettled, vexed, annoyed.

It doesn’t take much to see that there are plenty of gradations from the full on enraged to the more moderate annoyed.  Nor is it a big jump to expect, having identified one’s anger as perturbation rather than fury, that the ability to dial one’s reaction down from total annihilation to mere grievance is made equally easier.

Contemplate, while breathing or not, what that feeling is that you are actually feeling and you may be well on your way to being able to develop a powerful internal relationship with your own feelings that allows you to not just breathe, but breathe a little easier.