From January through August last year, I spent two and a half hours every Saturday morning at a family skills session of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Simplistically, DBT is an evolution of Cognitive Behavior Therapy with the added component of mindfulness, which I loved. DBT has been used to successfully treat profoundly suicidal, self-harming people as well as those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or along the Bipolar spectrum. Kid #2 rings three of those bells. She went to individual therapy with a DBT clinician and attended the group sessions for about three months. Then she quit.
I kept going because it seemed to me that someone in her life should get some skills that might be useful when her emotions become overwhelming. If you’ve ever dealt with someone who’s jacked up on anger, fear, or sadness, you know how easy it is to get sucked into their emotional vortex. And then there are two of you in an out-of-control feedback loop. DBT family skills have helped me maneuver this terrain a little more successfully.
One of my favorite techniques for calming down and becoming more mindful is nickel breathing. I’ve used a count-and-breathe exercise in the past, but if I was really stressed out, I’d forget what I was supposed to count to at any given point in the breathing. Nickel breathing is much simpler.
Count to five as you inhale.
Count to five as you hold the breath.
Count to five as you exhale.
Count to five before the next inhale.
Repeat until you feel calmer.
I’ve found that even if I don’t prompt #2 to do nickel breathing, she’ll often match my breaths if we’re having an emotionally-charged encounter. It works best when her emotion is sadness or fear, not so great with anger. The biggest benefit is for me. Paying attention to my breath helps me calm down, yes, but it also brings me back into the moment so I can pay attention and really hear what’s being said and what her body language is telling me. You know, instead of thinking about my next response. Or freaking the hell out.
I nickel breathed my way through the custody mediation a few months ago. I nickel breathed my way through the settlement meeting. Sometimes I nickel breathe through certain yoga poses while my mind is screaming, “You can’t do that.”
I may not be able to do it exactly like everyone else, but I’m calm enough to do what I can.
I got a lot out of those eight months of sessions, but nickel breathing is the one I find universally useful and easy to remember.