I was driving home. I was anxious and upset. Overwhelmed. Trying not to cry. A song came on the radio. I’m pretty sure I had never heard it before. Green Day and I have never been on the best of terms. More like they do their thing and I do mine. This single showed up when I needed it though.
The great thing about a song refrain is it repeats. So those particular lyrics are easier to learn. I don’t sing well… except to my steering wheel. Then I’m a freaking rock star. To distract myself from what I was feeling I tried to sing along.
“I’m still breathing on my own.”
At that moment I noticed my breath. It was shallow in my chest. I felt a tightness in my shoulders and neck that comes with stress and lack of deep breathing.
I had forgotten to breathe.
The signal I was waiting at turned green. Right there in my car as I drove through the intersection I started a breathing exercise. I learned it in the book F*** Anxiety. Please get past the swearing. It’s a legit book on anxiety from someone who gets it. He’s a clinical psychologist with a good sense of humor and a straightforward approach. I read it a couple of months ago and it was like getting real advice on wrangling anxiety from my best friend.
The author taught a way to focus on your breath. It can be done anywhere because it doesn’t require closing your eyes and visualizing anything or some loud exhale sound that will draw attention in public. He said it was necessary to practice this exercise when you CAN breathe (little to no anxiety/stress) so when you CAN’T breathe (high anxiety/stress) you are ready to use the tool. Luckily I had practiced at least a little. Inhale for seven counts, hold for four, exhale for eight. Repeat.
Normally by my fourth or fifth time through this exercise I feel improvement. The tension eases, and so does my mind. When I return to breathing naturally I feel less of the constriction I felt previously. How long does it take? Less than five minutes.
Then I’m breathing on my own.