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Control breathing to keep calm. Is it really that simple?

My blog does emphasis the value of simple breathing exercises to calm ourselves. These exercises work for many people as they focus attention on our physiology – the workings of our bodies – and less on intricate psychological processes. Physiology seems to reach more of us than psychology!

However, thinking about breathing is a simple beginning. I’d ask you to think about controlled breathing – however you do it – as a gateway to many other important safe experiments. Controlled breathing is one step to take in affect regulation (to provide the official title for the process of soothing ourselves). On the subject of affect regulation there is a ton of research you can read, and, by way of a health warning, it is not very digestible. Affect regulation refers to the ability to maintain or increase positive feelings and well-being states and to minimise or regulate stress feelings and defensive states.

The idea of affect regulation is very old as it arises from the earlier, traditional psychological models. A living expert in this field is Allan Schore and he has two books of over 300 pages devoted to the topic. It is an important subject – infants and children have to learn how to control their responses to the world and carers are generally charged with helping that process. Some are more or less capable here. Therapy often exists to support and repair damage done in early years. Unfortunately, rather like the acquisition of language, it is less easy to put things right in later years.

To compound the problem, affect regulation rather depends on a deep understanding of human neuro-science. On this subject, Schore is well worth studying along with Louis Cozolino (The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy). For a more readable introduction to  the topic, have a look at Sebastian Seung’s Connectome.  A useful text that looks wider has Peter Fonagy as a lead writer (Affect Regulation, Mentalisation and the Development of the Self). Just a few glances at one or more of these texts will reinforce the idea that controlled breathing does, indeed, simply scratch the surface of ways to calm ourselves.

…. but you could be forgiven for the passing thought that therapy and therapists have a talent for complicating the picture and created a mystery around the change process. My own blog is less concerned with the under-pinning of affect regulation and more on practical ways in which you can enhance your own skills – on a daily basis.

For an interesting introduction to a brief affect regulation therapy, take a look at:

http://www.affectregulationtherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/About-brief-Affect-Regulation-Therapy.pdf

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