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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

What a long strange trip it’s been. Time for a breathing break…

October 22, 2016

Don't forget to breathe

Don’t forget to breathe

I’ve done a crazy amount of breathing since Trump won the GOP nomination. Had to. I mean really, the way this guy talks reflects so much scary stuff it would challenge the Dalai Lama’s equilibrium. (OK, maybe not the Dalai Lama, but my sanity for sure.) So I breathe. Doesn’t always help. At best it provides only a few seconds of relief from catastrophic thinking, but even so… it’s all I’ve got when my stress response spins out of control.

With the debates over and now reflecting a sizable advantage for Hillary Clinton, my blood pressure has returned to normal. But breathing still comes in handy to help deal with day-to-day frustrations.

Last week I visited a Bay Area middle school to talk with 6th-8th graders about healthy ways to manage stress. I finished the student sessions with a Breathing Challenge. It goes like this: Sometime during today, you will experience at least one situation that triggers a strong emotion. When it happens, catch yourself in the middle of a freak-out, take a slow deep breath (or three or four) and think about your next best move. Email me and let me know what happened.

I told the students their email would be their entry into a contest to win a free copy of my book Too Stressed to Think: The teen guide to staying sane when life makes you CRAZY.  I would award one book to one student in each of the three grades.

Twelve of the 1200 students entered the contest. Their experiences were so transformative I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. (For the record, I’m guessing many more of them used the breathing technique I taught, they just didn’t follow through with the email part.) OK… here we go. Be inspired.

1. Today, my siblings started talking to my friends leaving me to walk alone all by myself. Usually I would run up to my brother and punch him in the face. But instead, I breathed in and called him. He said that he had simply thought that I was with them the whole time so, it wasn’t intentional. After hearing that I just ran ahead and caught up to the group completely calm.

2. Today my brother did something and I got blamed for it… like always. I did the breath in then out and that helped to calm down. Now instead of talking back I could just accept it.

3. Today my chorus teacher was being SUPER hard on us because we are trying to learn a song. I did the breathing exercise. It worked completely thank you so much, I felt great for next period in PE and I ran my mile super fast.

4. Tonight when I wanted to keep messing around with my volleyball, my dad asked me to do the dishes. I REALLY didn’t want to do. I started getting mad when he said I had to but I took a deep breath and I did the dishes, and that made me feel good so I continued to help my parents make dinner. I was so glad I knew that breathing trick!

5. Today when I was taking my math test, I came across a difficult problem. Instead of not doing the problem like I normally do, I took a deep breath and tried to do the problem. And you know what? I actually solved the problem.

6. Earlier today my dad and I were eating lunch when he told me that I had to clean everything up when we were done. I told him I didn’t really feel like doing it because I was having a really bad headache from all of my school work. He yelled at me for not doing what he asked and I was feeling really stressed, so I inhaled and exhaled just like you told us to. That was the way I got my headache to hurt less and for me to calm down a little.

7. I saw my best friend laughing with someone who is mean to me. It bothered me. I did a breath and asked my friend about it. She explained that she was not laughing about something the mean girl had said. It turned out that she was laughing with one of my other friends and not the mean girl. The mean girl had just joined in to the laughing.

8. My brother was really stressing me out in the car today when he was singing and stomping his feet when our parents were in the store and being really annoying!!! So, I did what you told me to do- inhale slowly and exhale out. It really worked.

9. I used my breathing tool when my friend in cross country practice kept trying to pass me. I got really annoyed, but once I did the breathing, I felt much better.

10. Today I wasn’t able to remember my homework. This made me stress. “What is my homework? How can I find out????!!!!” I thought in my head. I couldn’t think because I was so frantic. I then thought about you. I took a long deep breath and went to my binder. My memory started to flow and I remembered it was #102-104. That doesn’t matter, but the point is that I used your method to solve my problem.

11. Today I was doing homework and my little sister came in and started stepping on it. I started to get really mad until I realized what I was doing and used the breathing technique you talked about. I calmly led my little sister out of my room instead of doing something that would have made it worse.

12. Today my dad said that I could hang out with friends but then he changed his mind after I told my friends I could go. So I got REALLY MAD! But then I talked it out with him and took breaths and calmed down. Your advice really helped me, thank you so much!!

That’s it for today. Enjoy your weekend. And don’t forget to breathe.


Day 10: Kindness and Respect Challenge (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) Part 2

October 10, 2013

In case you missed yesterday’s episode, you might want to take a minute to read the email from the teen whose friendship with her bff made her feel like a prisoner “in jail.” She wanted out, but didn’t know how to find the exit. I advised her to talk to her friend and take a vacation from the friendship.

Here’s what happened next:

Hey Terra,
Thank you very much! I’ve already told her today but things got all crazy. I said that I don’t want to be her best friend anymore, just want to be an ordinary friend to her. But I think she got it all wrong. Guess what she did?? She bad-mouthed me to my other friends!! She created bad stories about me! None of it was true! I hate her and exams are next week but my head just can’t focus!! Help!

Now What?!

Dear Now What,

I’m not surprised she turned against you.  She hasn’t been acting like a real friend for a while. This is just more of the same… with the volume cranked up. If your other friends believe the lies she made up and turn against you too, they’re not acting like real friends either. You deserve so much better.

I understand this is hard. We all want to be liked. We want people to say only good things and think only good thoughts about us. But no one has the remote controller for anyone else’s mouth or brain. People say what they want to say and think what they want to think. People also believe exactly what they choose to believe. You’ve got no control over any of it. Zero. But…you can choose not to let this upset you so much. Your ex-bff and the other girls have no power over you unless you give away your power to them.

You need to relax so you can study for your exams… and do your best. Every time you catch yourself thinking about the social garbage these girls are creating and spreading around, STOP… and take some slow deep breaths. Here’s how:
Inhale slowly and evenly through your nose (Try it right now)….
Then relax your jaw, open your mouth and slowly and evenly exhale.
(Go ahead.)
Repeat the cycle.
Inhale (and think “I am breathing IN….”)
Exhale (and think “I am breathing OUT…”
Close your eyes and continue breathing, slowly and mindfully.
SMILE (Go ahead. Even a half smile will do)

From now on, whenever you catch yourself getting sucked back into this silly drama or the next one, stop and breathe.  Re-center. Be kind to yourself. Be respectful of your power for good. Be here.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your exams.

In friendship,

A few days later I heard back from her one more time:

Thanks a bunch! (= it really helps.



See Day 11.


For Teens: What do you do when you’re stressed and don’t know what to do?

April 1, 2010

Life's a balancing act, so don't forget to breathe.

Life's a balancing act, so don't forget to breathe.

The sun’s back after dumping about 4 inches of rain on us yesterday. OK, maybe it was only one inch, but still, it was seriously stormy. So in the spirit of the new month and a new season I did some digital spring cleaning and stumbled across this old email from a stressed out 7th grade boy.  I decided to post his question and my answer just in case any of you can relate. I think I helped the kid. Maybe my advice will help you too.

Hey Annie,

You came to my school recently and talked to us about stress. I sometimes get stressed because I have so much to do I get that mixture of mad and sad. Then I do stuff that I don’t want to do. I also want a little more INDEPENDENCE and my parents tell me that if I do my responsibilities without being asked that will help me get more independence, but that’s really hard for me to remember to do that. Can you help me?



Hi Kevin,

It’s totally normal for you and everyone else to get stressed at times. But I’m guessing that you want to be able to get rid of the “mixture of mad and sad” when you feel it and to have more control over what you do.

Stress knocks people off-balance. Getting “back in balance” or re-centering reduces stress. It’s that simple. There’s a special kind of BREATHING called re-centering breathing.  It can help you when things get rough. When you do it, it can help you stop a stress-response before you lose control and end up doing stuff that you “don’t want to do.” This kind of breathing isn’t hard to do, but  it takes practice. The trick is to remember to do it while you’re feeling stressed.  Here’s how it goes:

1. RE-CENTER. Sit and get comfortable. Put your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands lightly on your thighs. Relax. Close your eyes. Breathe normally through your nose, but with one difference…pay attention and visualize the air coming in. Then visualize the air going out. BREATHE IN SLOWLY… THEN LET IT OUT SLOWLY. (Continue with this special kind of breathing for 20 seconds)

2. ASK YOURSELF: What did I notice? Some kids say: “Things slowed down.” “I felt calmer.” “I feel more relaxed.” Some say that their thoughts got quieter. Some say, “Nothing happened.” or “I almost fell asleep!” There are no wrong answers.  It’s all good.

3. TRY IT AGAIN. Close your eyes. Relax. This time INHALE SLOWLY and evenly through your nose. Then EXHALE SLOWLY and evenly through your open mouth. When you inhale think “Breathing IN” when you exhale think “Breathing OUT.” Quiet all other thoughts. Follow your breathing. (Continue for 30 seconds)

4. ASK YOURSELF: What did I notice? What was different?

Learning to focus only on your breathing, without letting other thoughts distract you, can be very challenging. It takes practice. If you can’t focus on your breath for more than a second without thinking of other things, don’t get mad at yourself. (That’ll stress you out!) As soon as you notice your mind wandering, gently bring your focus back to your breathing.

5. TRY IT ONCE MORE, breathing at your own pace. (Continue for 45 seconds)

6. ASK YOURSELF: What happened that time?

Re-centering breathing is a great way to calm down so you can THINK more clearly and figure out what to do in stressful situations.

Try it for today. Try to remember to breathe every time you start to feel stressed about… anything. It will help you feel more in control of what you do and help you remember to keep your agreements with your parents. That’s going to show them that you’re ready for more independence.

Good luck!

In friendship,


Try the Breathing Challenge. Simply BREATHE as you feel yourself stressing and about to lose it. Then send me an email and  let me know what happened right after you took a breathing break. What changed? How’d you handle the situation after you calmed down?  This is how we all learn from each other!

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