If I asked you how you’re doing in this season, what would you say? I’m going to guess you’re worn out, tapped out, ready for a reprieve from all of the uncertainty, chaos, controls and change. I think most of us are. It feels like the whole world has been holding its breath, not knowing what could possibly happen next. If you’re any of those things I listed, I’m confident you’re not alone!
Instead of holding your breath like everyone else, too, I want to offer another option: Just breathe.
I know. It seems obvious. But, trust me, it works. Try it now, right where you are.
Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4. Then do it again, and again, until you feel grounded physically in your present moment. It works best if you do it for 3-5 minutes. This exercise is called box breathing, and it’s used by special operations soldiers under high stress situations to help them remain calm. You can find many resources on this technique. Practicing that technique works amazingly by resetting your brain as it sweeps out stress chemicals and produces a state of calmness.
Recently, as I felt myself enter a transition, I used this simple technique to help manage the stress I was feeling. As I practiced it, I related my current transitions to another experience I had many years ago. What made me connect the two was the idea of how stressful, and even painful, transitions in life tend to be. Transitions are hard. Often, they require our full focus to get through them to the next place.
There’s this important breathing skill they teach expectant parents in birthing classes. It is supposed to help you to focus when pain becomes intense, allowing you to work with the pain and not against it.
It’s been years since I had both of our daughters. However, I still remember the technique. I also remember the birthing class and what my husband and I experienced together in that cold room full of equally confused soon to be first-time parents. All of us felt awkward and disconnected as we attempted to practice it. It seems a similar thing is happening now collectively as we all attempt to move through this enormous season of transition.
At the time, we listened carefully as the instructor talked about how important breathing was through the intense and painful parts of the birthing process, also referred to as “transition.” I was especially confused, because my first thought was: “Doesn’t everyone just know how to breathe already?” Had I known the true importance of what our instructor was saying, and how much it applied to the rest of my life, I would have listened much better.
The idea of breathing properly then was the least of my concern. I was nearly full term and ready to get things over. Honestly, I was distracted with the level of potential pain I might experience and breathing seemed fundamental. I was also concerned with how exposed I might be in front of a bunch of strangers trying to deliver a baby. Add to that my need to grasp how much my life was going to change as we transitioned to new roles of being parents. Breathing seemed rather fundamental, but the other parts of it not so much.
Challenges of Transition
I think many people go through life’s challenges in a similar fashion, not really grasping what is occurring around them, and impervious to things others might be sharing to help. I think a lot of life is a birthing process, transitioning from one phase to the next, encountering major challenges at each juncture.
As I look around right now, I see many, including myself, who are in a season of transition and birthing. Like natural birth, their experiences vary according to many factors in their lives. Some people welcome the challenge and throw themselves at the new things ahead. Some are more likely to resist what is happening, and their fear about the unknown can be very stressful.
If that is where you find yourself, please know the “birthing process” is different for everyone. No one really can explain what you will experience, even if they want to. When I delivered my girls, the entire process felt altogether exciting, scary and uncomfortable. But I thought if other moms made it through childbirth process, then certainly I could, too. That basic mindset can carry us through a lot of things, not just birth. If others can make it through, so can you.
Each of us approach transition phases in our own way, and like natural childbirth, those experiences are often both painful and wonderful all the same time. Breathing in the moment, and to get through the moment can be the thing that carries us back to the space where things feel grounded again.
Benefits of Breathing
Sometimes taking a moment to stop, pause and breathe in deeply can be so healing for our brains. It actually can change our brain—which is probably why birthing classes were started to begin with, to help mothers learn to control their fear, exhaustion and overwhelm to focus on the goal of delivery.
Learning to do this properly, myself first, and then also leading many coaching clients through this process, I’ve seen the power of breathing quickly reset a stressed, hurting, or overwhelmed person’s brain in as little as a few minutes.
Breathing can help us manage the juxtaposition of stress with lifegiving, grief with joy, old and new, controlled and unexpected, fulfilling and overwhelming that seems to repeat itself in life. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that transitions and change can be incredibly painful and uncertain, and that sometimes, you just must breathe. By breathing, I mean learning how to breathe in a way that disrupts the intense moments of anxiety and uncertainty where we feel like we are no longer in control and the situation we are in is instead what is in control.
What makes it most trying in this season is that what we knew has faded away, but the birth of the new has not yet come, and so many of us feel stuck in transition, much like the way I felt that morning just before my daughter was born. I remember the exact moment when the pressure was so great, I wanted to turn back, and yet turning back was not a choice then, and it certainly isn’t now. There comes a time when the only choice you have before you is to push through. And then push again, and then keep pushing until the new thing is fully birthed.
One of the things I’ve learn through my own difficult life transitions is that we often find what we’re looking for, and sometimes right next to pain is beauty. And like a mother who forgets her pain when she sees her baby, we, too, forget the difficult transition periods. I promise when you come out on the other side, you will, too.