Fight. Flight. or Freeze.
Your brain goes to one of those when your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your are under stress.
Although those reactions are great for protection against predators (especially the fight or flight....freeze not so much), it is a horrible way to think rationally.
Think of "fight, flight or freeze" as "Mayday Mode." The plane is going down and you are frantically looking for the parachute. You are no longer listening to flight command and have abandoned the control panel. There is nothing else except survival.
"Mayday Mode" is meant to help you survive, but as a society, we have learned to live with chronic stress. That means many of us live in Mayday Mode.
There are ways to calm anxiety. Some people take medication and others take a walk. But what if you are stuck? What if you are not allowed to get out of your chair and you are in a room full of people who might stare at you if you start acting weird?
What if you are a stressed high school student who feels trapped and is then given a piece of paper requiring you to remember everything you have learned from the past 3 weeks?
If you are in Mayday Mode, you don't stand a chance.
The way out.
There are many ways to get out of Mayday Mode, but there is one way that is easy to do in the classroom and is easy to teach students.
Its' called: 4-7-8 Breathing
What is 4-7-8 breathing?
Made famous by Dr. Weil. 4-7-8 breathing is a breathing technique used to lower anxiety and actually fall asleep quickly. Although you don't want sleepy students in the classroom, you do want calm, rational thinkers. Here is how it works.
Step 1: Breathe in through nose for 4 seconds
Step 2: Hold breath for 7 seconds
Step 3: Breathe out audible making a whooshing sound for 8 seconds
Step 4: Repeat 3 more times
How does 4-7-8 help to get you out of Mayday Mode?
Breathing is an involuntary and voluntary response all in one. You don't have to think to breathe. Your body does it automatically. Your breathing changes based on activity and emotions automatically. The odd thing is that there is also voluntary breathing. You can hold your breath or slow it down, and you can use this to your advantage.
By calming your breathing down, you override your adrenal system. When you take control of your adrenal system and slow it down, you mind shifts back from Mayday Mode to rational thinking.
When you think rationally, it is easier to observe your surroundings, process information, and recall memories.
Here is how you can apply 4-7-8 to the classroom:
1. Teachers, we can use this to calm ourselves down. Next time the class is out of control, say, "Everyone heads down!" and have everyone put their heads on their desks. Walk around silently and deep breathe. Don't worry about being awkward. Awkward silence is a great way to gain back control in the classroom. Again, use 4-7-8 breathing, come out of Mayday Mode, and think rationally. Then confront the issue.
2. Teachers can do the breathing with the class. If you see your students are under a lot of stress or have high anxious energy, have them calm down by practicing 4-7-8 breathing as a class. Tell them the benefits and show them that it is a tool they can use.
3. Use it before a test. Have the students use this technique before a test so that they can recall information better.
4. Use it to switch from an something active to something serious. If you have a fun activity that requires a lot of movement, and then need to switch to an activity that is more calm or serious, use 4-7-8 as your transition. Don't play a game with students or watch a funny video and then expect them to instantly be ready for a 20 minute lecture.
What other applications for 4-7-8 do you see? What methods do you use to bring your students out of Mayday Mode?