In the Kids Cooperate social skills groups, we do many activities focused on bringing somatic awareness, an understanding of how our nervous system works and how to communicate with it.
The nervous system consists of two overlapping response systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Activated by stress and anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system controls the fight or flight response and induces spikes in cortisol and adrenaline that can be damaging when they persist too long. Over time, chronic stress can even destabilize brain and endocrine chemistry.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for managing the body's responses when it is relaxed and at rest. The switch between the two is literally right under your nose.
When we are frightened or stressed, we take short shallow breaths which serve as one of the signals to activate the sympathetic nervous system and go on full hormonal alert. By taking a long, slow deep breath, we can in effect send the "all clear" signal for the body to stand down from high alert. Muscles unclench, the heart rate lowers, and hormonal equilibrium is restored.
Our philosophy is that developing an understanding of the unconscious mechanisms that influence our thoughts and feelings creates a positive behavioral feedback loop. We discuss why and when the sympathetic nervous system is helpful and necessary, and work towards an understanding of how to take control of the processes which do not serve us well.