One of the questions I commonly get asked is, "What do I do when things aren’t going to plan? Is there anything I can do really?"
It’s a challenging question right?
Usually well meaning people try to reassure us with instructions to relax and stop worrying, like it is that easy. "Don’t worry," say our worried partners, in an attempt to console both of us. "Just relax, you are doing great."
Does this work? Do we instantly relax and stop worrying in the face of problems just because someone who cares about us tells us to?
Of course not. Certainly not when that person is worried too. Sometimes we even erupt in anger right back at them, our fear and frustration spilling over in desperation.
Sometimes, if the person reassuring us is truly embodying a truth that all is well, then that will be transmitted to you and you will feel calmer. More often it is the fear that is catching.
In this post I would like to share with you two positive stories that illustrate this and point to a better way of initiating that relaxation and letting go than the direct instruction to do what you really would already be doing if you could!
Story Number 1: Sitting With My Grandfather.
“Don’t worry,” my grandad said to me with his slow gentle energy. He sighed and paused. “You will worry of course, but you don’t need to.”
I continued sitting with my grandad in silence, just breathing. Feeling emotions run through me. I had chosen to be the one to tell him of our bad news, the serious illness in another family member. I hadn’t expected him to be so calm. He was like a strong tree in a storm.
Oh the wisdom of our elders, so often overlooked. Having lived through way more than I, including a World War, he was more comfortable with shock news. He knew he couldn’t take my worry away. He didn’t even try. Yet I could feel his love and caring in the silence. I was reassured by his calm presence as I am when I sit under a tree in the woods and the energy under his words pierced through my bubble of worry. His honest assessment that neither he nor I could prevent me worrying gave me permission to be where I was and let the feelings flow.
We sat in silence a little while more just breathing together. His slower pace influenced me and I slowed and softened myself.
There was something timeless and healing in just breathing. Taking space together. Letting the space heal. So powerful. So useful. So often neglected in the rush and panic of the pain.
Story 2. Jason Chan speaking at The Tree of Life
“Just breathe,” he smiled to an appreciate audience who let out a wave of laughter in recognition. I could feel the whole room relax as they followed his instructions. In seconds the energy of the room had shifted from a higher, nervous energy to a softer more expansive feel. And he invited us to feel the changes quite literally by waving our hands in the air in front of us to sense the environment. Before we applied focus to our breath we had all been unconsciously held in the sway of our thoughts, and the habitual busy energy we often reside in. He didn’t change our state by teaching us some complicated breathing process that would take years to master. He led me swiftly to a peaceful place quite simply with a little focus, an engaging down to earth manner and plenty of humour.
What really hit home was his demonstration of the difference we all felt in being told ‘Don’t worry’ when worried in comparison to the effect of being asked to ‘Just breathe.’
The first is a negative instruction and the brain will happily imagine the worry, then work out how to cancel it. Too late! Your super-fast nervous system and subconscious has already responded to the first part and you are having to work harder to get back to relaxation. It also just tells you to stop something but doesn’t give a clear instruction of what else to do instead. When we are fearful and panicked we don’t have full access to time and reasoned thought. We need simple clear instructions we can get behind that will lead us through to a better space. Just breathe fits that bill.
Of course breathing is something that gets talked about a lot when you are preparing to give birth. Lots of different breathing exercises are taught, all with the aim of supporting you to relax. (Re)learning to relax is an invaluable tool to enjoy your pregnancy, support the optimal development of your baby and help you labour with ease. In my next post I will go into more detail as to why breathing is so effective and share some suggestions of techniques you can use.
Today I wish to keep it simple and leave you with three points I learnt from my grandfather and Jason Chan.
- The power of the breath to shift us through difficult emotions in an emergency.
- The speed at which a shift is possible. Think of how fast fear hits as you see a bus bearing down on you unexpectedly and imagine this in reverse.
- We can be reassured to remember we have all we need at our fingertips. Breathing is accessible and we all know how to do it.
This last one is key. Learning and practicing techniques is empowering and useful. If in the moment you can’t remember a thing and your mind is blank with panic, just come back to your breath and start there. Focus on your breath and then make the out breath longer. Nothing fancy, just bring yourself back to your body and your breath and keep breathing. Let the breath do the work.
I invite you to try this now. Imagine a scenario in which you are usually worried. Perhaps you usually tell yourself not to worry? Instead invite yourself to breathe. Spend a few moments breathing and reflecting on how you are today. Then take a moment to let me know how you found it. I would love to hear.
P.S. If you enjoyed this then try it out with your loved ones too. Next time someone close to you comes to you with a problem, replace 'don't worry' with 'just breathe' and spend some time sitting and breathing together and see what happens.