With your feet flat on the floor, back straight, and in a comfortable sitting position, take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth. Relax your shoulders as you do this. Close your eyes if you’d like. Notice what it feels like to take each breath, letting your lungs expand and release. Give yourself this precious time. Resist the urge to rush.
After ten deep breaths, how do you feel? Perhaps more calm? Hopefully you feel more grounded as well. Occasionally I invite clients to bring attention to their breath in session when emotions are heavy. I also strongly encourage deep breathing outside of session.
In the past several years practicing as a counselor, I have noticed an increase of anxiety presenting as a major concern for new clients. I wonder how much of this is related to an ever-growing culture of instantaneity and exposure. Recently I came across an article entitled “Wait a Minute” by Jonathan Rach in The Atlantic. He proposes that it has become normalized to respond instantly via social media, email, texts, etc. If we see something we don’t like, we can quickly shoot out an angry email or bear our soul on twitter. It may feel good in the short-term to vent such feelings but result in negative consequences, only creating greater anxiety. In this digital age, most of us are connected 24/7 to more and more people and greater amounts of information. Others have constant access to us. Many feel pressure to be “on-call” at all times. How healthy is this really?
Rach also references psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, believes humans have two cognitive systems: System 1 and System 2.
“System 1 is intuitive, automatic, and impulsive. It makes snap judgments about dangers as predators or opportunities such as food, and it delivers them to our awareness without conscious thought. It can also be wrong. It is biased and emotional. It overreacts and under-reacts. System 2, by contrast, is slower and involves wearying cognitive labor. It gathers facts, consults evidence, weighs arguments, and makes reasoned judgments. It protects us from the errors and impulsivity of System 1.” (Rach).
We need System 1 and System 2 in order to process events. If we attach truth only to the data collected by emotions, we can find ourselves controlled by feelings. Anxiety flourishes in the midst of such chaos. Suddenly we find ourselves plummeting down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing, comparing, and blaming. Self-doubt also creeps in.
Stress is normal day-to-day. So is anger, fear, and hurt. Honoring such emotions by processing them in a meaningful, reflective way is healing. Taking time to breathe is an act of self-compassion. It is intentionally hitting the pause button on all the noise. Pausing and breathing also invites System 2 into the space. The mind requires a break, and with busy lives we can forget to catch our breaths. Establishing boundaries with your time, giving yourself breaks, and taking time to breathe are tools to creating balance and truly loving yourself better.
Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.