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Calm down with Birthday Cake Breathing!

If you’re like me, deep breathing isn’t always as simple and effective as it sounds. When feeling anxious, I have had the tendency to over-think and over-stress (surprise!) just how to breathe. “Is it in through my mouth? Or nose? Do I hold it? I feel like I’m gonna pass out!” Can you relate?

Anxious feelings can be closely tied to not getting enough oxygen due to habitually taking short, shallow breaths. Therefore, simply pausing and taking a long, deep breath is a powerful way to calm your nervous system and move through feelings of stress and anxiety. I like to describe taking a deep breath as using a remote control  on the brain-- helping it quickly change the channel from one stressed out show to a calmer, more relaxed show.  A deep breath can calm the nervous system (and therefore the thoughts and emotions) that effectively. ⁠

If getting worked up and needing a way to calm down is a common grown-up problem, no wonder kids struggle with it all the more. Do you know an anxious child who sometimes gets so worked up it's hard to calm down again? Do you ever feel like logical reasoning doesn't work and your kid needs go-to coping skills for big emotions? If you feel at a loss to help them, or struggle to stay calm and patient yourself, try my favorite deep-breathing technique I use for myself and my clients: "Birthday Cake Deep Breathing.⁠"

 The fun visualization of the birthday cake and the special ritual of blowing out candles doubles as a powerful relaxation technique to switch your brain out of its anxious thoughts and feelings and into the rich imagination that helps soothe you — and quickly!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Imagine that it is your birthday and your favorite cake is being placed in front of you, lit with cheerful, glowing candles.
  • Using your senses and imagination, really picture it.  What flavor is the cake? What colors do you see? What shape is the cake? What flavor of frosting? How does it smell? Is the room dim? Are the candles striped and maybe dripping? Do the little flames dance under you chin as you look down at them?
  • Taking a deep breath in through your nose, imagine that you are inhaling the scent of that cake in front of you.  Really smell it.  Anticipate how it will taste too! (Notice how quickly your brain can focus on something other than your anxiety? Keep going!)
  • Now, blow that same breath out slowly through your mouth, as if you are blowing out the candles on your cake. (Try holding out your fingers and pretend they are candles to blow out.)
  • Repeat- deep breath in through your nose while you inhale that scent, blow out the candles.

And that is it!  This is such a fun and simple way to truly experience the power of deep breathing, with an added relaxation visualization to enhance the experience.  I practice this with kids and adults alike.  And what if you don’t like cake or don’t want to think about your birthday?  Switch it up!  Picture a steaming plate of spaghetti or something else to you can smell and then blow.  A Yankee candle is another idea.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!  Make it your own for yourself or your kids.  And have fun with it, as engaging our imaginations to think about fun things is a great way to snap out of an anxious or stressed moment.

What more simple ways to help kids calm down and improve their mental health? Check out my free mini-course to learn skills to promote peace and joy in kids!

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