on learning how to breathe
I am, by nature, an anxious person.
It shows up quietly and I don't even notice. The tension and the stress start to rise, and before I know it, the anxiety asserts itself.
I notice it in my breath.
An extra yawn or two. The yawn that doesn't catch. The deep breath that is never deep enough. The tightness in my chest. The knowledge that if I don't stop, if I don't slow, if I don't focus on the how of breathing, I will lose. The faster I work and the more I try to breathe in deeply, the harder it becomes.
You see, a deep breathe requires slowness.
When I was a kid, I cried a lot. I still cry a lot, to be honest. When the crying would intensify and the breathing became harder, my mom always told me the same thing — slow down.
Breathe deeply. Breathe in, slowly. Breathe out, slowly. Calm yourself, calm your breath, and slow down.
And that's how I know when something is wrong — my body rebels and tells me, once again, slow down. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe deeply, and breathe slowly.
I remember the first time my body told me that something was wrong. It was the summer of 2012 and I was helping plan my older sister's wedding. I was supposed to meet my mom and sister that night at the reception venue to do the menu tasting. A flurry of other wedding related activities would continue to take place over the rest of the week, culminating with the bridal shower on Saturday — an event for which I, as the Maid of Honor, was primarily responsible.
Something wasn't right with my body. I couldn't breathe well. Every three minutes or so, I felt like I had to yawn, but I never quite caught it. Before long, I was close to hyperventilating. At the insistence of my coworker, I went to the hospital. Nothing medically wrong — just anxiety.
I recognize those symptoms more easily now. When the excessive yawning returns, when it's hard for me to catch my breath, that's when I know — something is wrong.
For a long time, I was a person who prized busyness. I packed my schedule to the brim, filling every night possible with activity. I thrived on the busyness, priding myself on my ability to "do it all" and still somehow maintain my sanity.
I don't care so much about busyness now. Margin, rest, and space — they're far more important.
But if I'm honest, I still struggle with the busyness. I struggle with the tension between a desire to create intentional space in my life and the norm of our society. Because the norm of our society is GOGOGO. It's productivity and efficiency and well-roundedness that comes from being involved in as many things as possible, ever rushing to and fro in an effort to do more, be more, achieve more.
My body rebels, though. And I'm learning to listen.
I spent a year in Georgia living at a much slower pace. Nights and weekends were free. Relationships and memories took priority. I spent entire afternoons on my back porch reading and days on the lake from sun up until sundown. Not once during my year in Georgia did I have to remind myself how to breathe. Not once did my body rebel against my schedule and tell me to slow down, to breathe in deeply and to breathe in slowly.
On days and nights when that happens — when I have to remind myself how to breathe again — I'm learning to listen.
I walk a little slower on the way back to the car. And I feel the tension start to recede. I put the phone in the other room and tune out of social media. And I feel the comparison slowly fade. I curl into a chair and dive into a beautiful story. And I feel my shoulders sink down from my ears. I mix watercolors together and spell out words and images on the page. And I feel the breathing start to stabilize. I take a walk or I make dinner from scratch or I get take out or I sit at my piano or I clean my room.
I do the things I need to do to remind myself how to breathe again.
I count it as a gracious gift that the Lord is making my body remind me to stop. Because, if I'm honest, I don't always listen for Him — especially when I get on a roll. But my body? I can't ignore that and He knows that and I think He uses it to His advantage.
Life for me will always probably be a little busier than most.
I work full-time, I run a business, I have family, friends, commitments at church, and the list goes on. I have things I want to do and I have things I need to do. But as I learn to listen to this trigger the Lord has placed in my body, as I learn to listen to the pattern of breathing, I'm realizing some of the needs are neither needs nor wants — they're 'shoulds.' Or things I perceive as 'shoulds.'
And some of the things I thought were wants are actually needs, because sometimes my soul needs that quiet walk around the neighborhood.
Quietness and rest is not my natural state.
On some level, I think it will always be a struggle. I will always be prone to let myself get swept up in the busyness. If left unchecked, I will always be striving, always hustling, always seeking to do more, be more, achieve more.
Until my body says to stop. Until my body tells me to slow down. Until my body forgets how to breathe.
Because then, I have to choose to stop hustling. I have to choose to stop the busyness.
I have to choose to teach myself how to breathe again.