I didn’t know that it was possible, but I actually had to learn how to breathe.
I was seeing a counselor (about 10 years ago now) who was trying to teach me how to relax. Are you laughing? I know it sounds ridiculous, but there are some of us…whether it’s personality related, or job related…who simply don’t know how to relax, at least not when left to our own devices. We both knew I was stressed, but I didn’t have a clue at the time about how to rectify the situation. So she taught me this one, simple “trick”…count your breath. (Huh?…I know.) Count how long it takes you to inhale, and how long it takes you to exhale. (Are you doing it now? Good.) If the numbers for your inhale and exhale don’t match….you are STRESSED.
Our bodies are designed for there to be balance in our inhale and our exhale, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s a problem. Oxygen isn’t circulating properly, it effects bloodflow and brain cells, and all sorts of things I will spare you the details on. So what’s the fix? BREATHE! Simply keep counting your inhale and exhale until the number match.
One lovely side-effect of this is that if you’ve been very stressed and didn’t realize it, correcting your breathing makes you VERY relaxed….and very sleepy. I try to check mine each night after I crawl into bed. Just the process of counting and trying to inhale and exhale evenly usually puts me out before I even realize that my numbers are matching! (And as a long time insomniac…this has been a life-saver!)
Learning to breathe this way also made me realize something else…I likewise have to balance the “breath” of my life, if I want to keep from being stressed out. If my life is all about inhaling (work, school, to-do lists and never-ending chores) and rarely about exhaling (seeing beauty, being in nature, hugging my sister’s kids, snuggling with my dog) I will be a stressed out mess.
My sister notices this with her kids…when she works and focuses on the housework and schoolwork and chores and her insanely long to-do list for the week, she gets stressed out. When she stops to sit on the floor to laugh and play games with her kids, she recharges…and they see in her the mom she wants them to see.
No matter who we are or what our lives are about, we all have to learn this balance. I think I’m finally learning to do this. As a constant worrier, I thought it my duty while on this earth to fretter and frit about every little thing that came up during the day. How was I going to get this done and how was I going to afford that? It sucked the life out of me. It affected my health. It affected my relationships.
So what’s the “quick fix”? It’s actually pretty simple…Let everything that has breath praise the LORD (Ps. 150:6, NIV). If, in the midst of chaos and striving I have enough clarity to stop and be thankful…it changes everything! It reminds me of Who is in charge…Who gave me my very breath. Suddenly, things don’t seem as bad. The chaos of my own emotions are stilled with a gentle whisper of “Peace, be still”…followed by “Be still, and know that I am God”. In a typical day of typical stress, it works like a charm; but even in a painful, agonizing moment of “why God, why?”, this has been a source of peace. An even deeper peace that I did not expect, and could not explain. The circumstances don’t change, but I can keep breathing. So all together now…inhale (one, two, three, four, five)…and exhale (one, two, three….