It has taken a lot of years for me to learn to stop and breath. I mean that in the literal and figurative sense. I grew up in a family of knee-jerk reactions that typically ended in arguments and vitriolic verbal warfare. Everyone has some form of a fight or flight mechanism in their brain – however, the Wheeler’s were born with a fight or fight gene.
This weekend I had multiple opportunities to exercise the amygdala portion of my brain and just react. This reactionary part of the brain only has a few seconds to either react (fight of flight), or relax and take breath. We all have the capacity to override a reactionary nature, but we make excuses by saying things like….
- You made me do this…
- I don’t have control in those circumstances…
- It was the stress talking and not me…
The truth is we can gain control but we have a very short window to do so. Once we launch full-scale into the fight of flight response – recovery is pretty difficult. It’s in these situations I have learned to breath. I never realized just how powerful semantic breathing can be. Let me give you a few examples:
- Social Media – some people can’t look at their Facebook or Twitter accounts without reacting to someone’s most recent post. We get angry, frustrated, disappointed, etc. and we react, but that isn’t the worst of it. Our reaction typically spurs someone else to react and we create a chain-reaction of responses. What would happen if we took a breath and thought, “consider the source” and moved on? Why am I offended by your politics, your religion, your insipid comments – because I choose to be offended.
- Anger – I had some pretty angry moments this weekend, but I choose to hold my tongue (and take several deep breaths) until I could conduct an intelligent conversation. I don’t do anger well, so when I shut it down, it can sometimes explode out of nowhere for no reason. This time I took a personal sabbatical. Went to a coffee shop, did some blogging, went to the gym, and 24 hours later addressed my concerns like a mature adult.
- Stress/Anxiety – Over the past several months I have been studying semantic breathing. There are lots of techniques and methods, but to put it simply you stop and begin to do deep breathing exercises until your nervous system calms down. Stress and Anxiety cause us to lash out at others, shut down emotionally, or withdraw socially. It is amazing how the simple act of breathing can reduce stress and anxiety.
For the past year I have been involved in marriage and relationship education training. Our organization teaches lots of skills, but if there is one tool I think everyone can and should add to their emotional tool box today – it is the ability to stop and breath. Taking a short, personal time out can stop so much heartache in a relationship. Taking a breath may save you from harsh words you will regret, making a bad decision, or just having time to listen.
I am NOT the perfect practitioner of semantic breathing, or relationships (as my wife can attest), or any of many other relationship skills. I remain a student who is committed to getting better as I get older. My only regret is rather than others saying “he is a lifelong learner,” what I probably will hear is “the old man has mellowed with age.”
OK, take a breath.