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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Gigler

Keep your Irish Eyes Smiling... Especially When you have ADHD!


You don’t have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, because on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish! This is true, whether you are cooking corned beef and cabbage, baking Irish soda bread, wearing green, watching an Irish movie, or going to see the Chicago River dyed green! Images of leprechauns, shillelaghs, four-leaf clovers, and a pot of gold all come to mind! You might even see Irish step dancers or join in a song, such as “When Irish Eyes are Smiling!”


Sometimes our eyes are not smiling when we’re struggling with the challenges related to living with ADHD! We might be overwhelmed by our own ADHD, not to mention our children’s struggles piled on top.


When emotion overwhelms us, the “smart” part of our brain goes offline. The prefrontal cortex disengages, and our feelings run the show. We can’t think straight! This usually happens when we are under stress or feel threatened. The neurons in the brain stem put us into survival mode, and they move the body into a state of “fight, flight, or freeze.” The brain must react in a split second, deciding how to protect itself by either attacking, running away, or playing dead.


The part of our brain that regulates emotions doesn’t know the difference between a tiger chasing us or an upcoming presentation for work. It detects fear and kicks our body into high gear, flooding every cell with cortisol and adrenaline.


The best way out? Slow, deep breathing. Also called diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing is the best way to shift our focus away from the stressor. Fresh oxygen helps bring the logical part of the brain back online and gets us to a place where we can think again.


Dr. Dan Siegel devised a model using the hand to demonstrate what happens when to your brain when you are under stress. It is called “The Flip Your Lid Model” *


What is Belly Breathing?

Belly breathing involves taking deep breaths that engage your abdomen as well as your chest. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped respiratory muscle under the rib cage. It does its greatest work when you take a breath. When you breathe deeply, the diaphragm contracts, so your lungs can expand into the extra space, letting in as much air as necessary.


How does deep breathing help with stress?

Inhaling brings oxygen to the body and to the brain. When you exhale, you trigger a relaxation response. This response calms down the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s ability to relax. When we focus on the rhythm of our breathing, we stop focusing on the stressor.


How do you practice deep breathing?

The best way to practice deep breathing is to lie in bed or on the floor. When you take a deep breath, you will notice that your belly moves toward the ceiling as you fill with air. When you exhale, your belly will move naturally toward your spine or the floor. You can inhale through your noise and exhale through your mouth.


Three things to remember:

  1. Breathe slowly

  2. Breathe deeply

  3. Exhale longer than you inhale


What are the benefits of deep breathing?

  • Your heart, lungs, and blood vessels work more efficiently at delivering oxygen to the body’s tissues and the brain. The brain, though only 2% of the body in size, uses 20% of the body’s oxygen, according to Marten Nedergaard, MD, in the Journal, Neuron.

  • Your brain waves change frequency, generating fewer sleepy delta waves and more healthy alpha waves.

  • You are calmer, better able to make decisions and experience less frustration.

  • You can relax with a calm mind and body.

  • You lower your heart rate.

  • You lower your blood pressure.

  • You improve core stability.

  • You can improve symptoms of anxiety and PTSD.


What will happen if I breathe deeply and sing, too?

There are numerous studies that have focused on the health benefits of singing. You don’t have to be a pop star or an opera singer, either. Singing in your car or the shower qualifies! Check out this article to learn 11 amazing benefits of singing.


On this St. Patrick’s Day, put the excellent tool of deep breathing—and even singing—into your ADHD toolbox. Take a deep breath and belt out a tune! Irish or not, your eyes (and the rest of you) will be smiling!


For strength-based support, check out the fee resources at ADD Joy of Life Coaching.


Additional Resources


  • Video: Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain

  • How Deep Breathing Opens Up the ADHD Brain

  • Just Breathe: Diaphragmatic Breathing for ADHD

  • 11 Amazing Benefits of Singing That You May Not Know


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