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Butterflies & Stress
It sounds so simple: kids take a deep breath when a butterfly opens its wings, and exhale again when the wings close.
Yet the research is clear: stress is toxic, and a few deep breaths can really help.
The Elfenworks Foundation's Breathing Butterfly project uses this simple yet profound tool - a butterfly metaphor - to give kids and their caring adults a healthy way of dealing with stress. They cope by moving from "fight or flight" to "relaxation response." This is crucial, because every childhood is stressful, perhaps in the 21st century more than ever before. So we've responded by developing a toolkit - centered around a butterfly visualization, a mindfulness based stress reduction technique, or MBSR.
Kids experience stress for all sorts of reasons, just like teens and adults. Often, the situations that cause them stress are out of their control. Stress can come at school, from the need to perform, pressure from peers, or bullying. It can come from health reasons and financial reasons, or family problems. There are a whole host of reasons kids can increase stress. All children, whether highly stressed or simply dealing with the stress of growing up, can benefit from additional coping skills.
About the Effects of Stress
When kids experience stress, "fight or flight" chemicals are released by the body. These chemicals, known as cortisols, have been shown to make it harder for kids to learn and retain information. While a release of cortisol can be part of the body's natural reaction to stress, long-term exposure to cortisol has many negative health outcomes, such as insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. In addition to these negative long-term health effects, cortisol release has also been shown to reduce some components of memory performance. In essence, stress is toxic to growing brains.
The Surprising Effects of a Few Deep Breaths
It seems so simple, that a few deep breaths would help combat stress. Yet powerful body responses lie behind this simple relaxation response. Deep breaths actually stimulate what's known as the relaxation response, or a parasympathetic reaction, to calm us down. This is the opposite of the "fight or flight" response that stress stimulates. It also affects heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity.
The evidence is clear: MBSR has been shown to build resilience and improve outcomes. The coping skills we teach, while they cannot address the underlying situation, at least allow children some protection against the psychological and physical effects of acute and chronic stress. So, in a sense, we are attempting to "inoculate" kids against some of the more harmful effects that stress can produce. Children learn that, while they may not be able to control the environment, they do have some power over their response to it.
Speak a language that’s not yet here?
Elfenworks is currently looking for languages to support the The Butterfly Project. So far, we’ve covered many of the most common languages found in homeless shelters, but this project has worldwide reach and there are still chasms within our solution… we have only scratched the surface with the number of languages we provide to date. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact us first. This will help avoid any duplicative efforts and allow us to get you the script (in English) and provide you with the necessary release forms. We can also advise on some recording methods that may result in a better recording.
To develop tools based on a butterfly metaphor, in multiple languages.Learn More
Stress can harm the growing brain ... and stress reduction helps.Learn More
Get involved at the child-support level or as an expert volunteer translatorLearn More