The Coach's Corner

Note to self: breathe

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #40

What is it about the month of March? Stress is showing up everywhere I go.

This week a sense of dread felt like it stuck to my chest, rattled through my family, shook up several clients and even brought a normally cheerful grocery clerk to tears.

Doing a scan of my surroundings, I began with the month. March does have 31 days. Daylight saving time takes an hour from every one of us. Spring officially begins – but snow is forecast where I live in Denver so the crocus popping through the ground will be covered in the next 24 hours.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound worse than any other month. Still, I can’t shake the expressions of full blown stress that I spy around every corner of my life.

And because the levels of anxiety seemed so heightened, I found myself caught up in the swirl and forgot what I know will jumpstart the process to move me through these anxious moments and bring relief.

As quickly as I’d forgotten, I remembered. Using my frequent go-to fix for stress I took a deep breath, grounded myself with my water bottle and paused. In less than a minute I could feel the tension in my chest begin to loosen.

I bet you’ve noticed that often you know exactly what will ease your suffering. But when you feel stuck, everything goes blank. So I offer you a way to return to yourself that begins with a deep breath. Kind of like a superpower from within.


Note to self: breathe

I’m an ardent follower of the Ivy Lee method, rewritten eloquently by James Clear. At the end of every work day, I write down the six most important things I need to do the next day and fairly diligently, I work through each item one by one the following day.

If you were to see my calendar, you’d notice that in addition to my workload I build in professional development time to write and research, personal time to pick up grandkids and prep a dinner for guests and notes for the birthdays of my family members and close friends.

As I put this piece together I recognized I have no time allotted to pause, to relax, to breathe. Most likely that’s because I don’t think of breathing: it’s essential and requires no thought. But here’s the crazy thing. While it requires no thought to breathe, when I do think about breathing I know it will reduce whatever stressful thoughts are taking over my mind.

In my coaching and mentoring practice this week, a number of clients showed up with heavy levels of stress. When I offered an option to begin the session with a breathing exercise, the shift in stress in less than two minutes was palpable. By inquiring what they were beginning to experience and giving them the space to pause, we could take the next step and dig into whatever dilemma or issue or practice they wanted to explore.  Free from the heaviness they’d arrived with just a few minutes earlier.

Because I know that building in this time to breathe and pause is so critical to a sense of wellbeing, I’m stunned when I lose sight of precisely what’s missing in the moment!

As one client so beautifully recounted this week,

Thank you for offering me the room to breathe. I forget that’s all it takes sometimes to center and open myself up to see that the ground is still under my feet. There’s room to move.

Maybe that’s the big insight here: offering the people with whom we work and play the space to acknowledge their anxiety and stress, then partnering with them to find a way to the other side. And it begins with a breath.

When you’re triggered, there’s no question you’re in fight or flight mode. You breathe faster and you brace yourself to act.

In a brilliant piece of research entitled, Master your breath, Master your health, Daniel Craighead, an assistant research professor in the department of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder, says,

If you take a slow, deep breath to calm down, that’s actually working physiologically by affecting the nervous system, it’s not just all mental.

Researchers find that when you focus on your breath, you can disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations. While you can make this part of your daily routine to keep you calm, you can also engage in taking deep breaths just about anywhere and immediately begin to experience a sense of grounding.



Your own 2-minute superpower

There are a number of controlled breathing exercises that you can do in minutes that help you gain an immediate sense of calm. This is not a cure for severe depression, but this breathing may help with some symptoms.

I like to use box breathing with my clients for a variety of reasons – especially when they’re preparing for a presentation or getting ready to have a difficult conversation. It’s easy to remember, there’s a visual ‘box’ component and you can do the entire exercise in less than two minutes.

And if you want to practice what’s also known as square breathing, here’s a great version from The Black Dog Institute.


My takeaway

Now if you look at my calendar, you’ll find that I’ve added a note to myself in the to-do list portion – so I’ll see it all day.

It says, simply, breathe.

In those moments of distress, when things go blank or blurry or get sticky I can quickly remind myself there is a way through.

Your body is amazing. Its response to taking deep and controlled breaths is kind of like a superpower, when you remember you have it within you.

Note to self: RELAX. You are enough. You do enough. Breathe extra deep, let go and just live right now in the moment.



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