To Get Through Stress Of E-Learning, Mindfulness Instructor Says, Be Present And Just Breathe

Apr 10, 2020

Austinites have been sheltering in place for a while now, but for households with a K-12 student, this week might have introduced a new challenge: virtual learning.  

The stress of schoolwork, in addition to the stress of, you know, a global pandemic, a struggling economy and the fear of getting sick, means both kids and adults might be a little on edge. 

James Butler is the social emotional learning mindfulness specialist for the Austin Independent School District and a certified yoga teacher. He knows how to help get kids of all ages in the right mindset to learn.

As a former classroom teacher, he also knows how overwhelmed parents might feel taking on e-learning on top of everything else they have going on. He has some words of encouragement: 

“You have always been a teacher and you will always be your kid’s number one teacher,” Butler says. “Try not to be some other type of teacher during this time. Just be yourself and model taking care of yourself for your kids.” 

He shared some tips with KUT for adults and kids to create their own mindfulness practice.

Breathe

Butler says breathing is one of the most effective ways people can help themselves when they're feeling anxious, depressed or stressed. 

“We can use our breath to help uplift our nervous system or soothe our nervous system based on the type of breathing," he says.

Feel like your mind is racing or you have anxiety?

“If you double your exhale or elongate your exhale that helps soothe your nervous system or calm it down,” Butler says. That means exhaling for twice as long as you inhale.

And if you’re feeling low and lethargic because of stress or depression? 

“If you take vigorous inhales that can uplift your nervous system or help pick you up and give you a little bit of much-needed energy,” he says.  

Journal

“Journaling allows you to release what you are feeling and what you are thinking,” Butler says. “If I’m having some negative thoughts and negative feelings about myself, if I don’t process that and write it out and figure out what’s at the root of it, it’s gonna stay in my mind and it’s going to continue to grow and grow, and then it might come out in an outburst through my body or a verbal reaction.”

Name Your Feelings, Then Get Present

Butler says when people feel anxious or stressed thinking about the pandemic or what it has taken from their lives, it’s important to recognize what they're feeling. 

He goes by the philosophy: “Name it to tame it.” So, understand your emotions so you know where you’re at. Then, do something that brings you back to the present to stop your brain from spiraling out.

Butler offers these ways to get present: focus on your breathing, do exercises like naming all of the things in your room that are one color, or take a breath while touching all of your fingers to your thumb. 

By doing this, he says, you reframe your mindset.

You are right here, you are right now, you’re not in that scary place," he says. "You’re not in that scary situation you might be creating in your mind or you might have gone in your mind."

Show Gratitude

Taking time each day to remember what you are grateful for is another way to stay present. Butler says he writes a gratitude list every morning as part of his own mindfulness practice.

“No matter what my day is like when I'm writing that gratitude list, I am always feeling positive,” he said.

Butler says that some of these will work for some kids and not others, so parents should just be open to trying whatever works best for their family. 

Most Importantly, Make It A Routine

Butler says the most important way for any mindfulness technique to work is to do it regularly. He says for kids to actually use these techniques as coping skills, they have to practice them regularly. 

“Those strategies can be built into our kids’ memories,” he says. For example, if a child is having a meltdown, we all know you can’t be like, 'Let’s take some deep breaths,’ if you’ve never taken deep breaths before.” 

He suggests building new strategies into existing routines: Practice taking deep breaths when a kid is in bed getting ready to go to sleep, journal every morning after you eat breakfast, or share what you are grateful for while you eat dinner. 

One tool Butler is providing is a daily two-minute video on YouTube that helps kids and adults take some time to be present. 

Got a tip? Email Claire McInerny at claire@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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