Use the power of your breath to ease anxiety

When there’s an anxiety-producing event looming – an important presentation, dental surgery, a first date – you can start to calm your nerves the day before with this exercise. Close your eyes and gently bring your lips together. Inhale through your nose. As you exhale (also through your nose), make a humming sound: “Mmmmmm.” Let this hum last as long as it is comfortable. Then inhale and repeat. Don’t try to control it too much. Just breathe in and hum out. If you try to extend the hum longer than is natural, you might tighten up. Play with the tone until you find the place where your “mmmmmm” flows out in a comfortable, lowish pitch, audible but quiet enough that no one except, say, the person right next to you on the bus would hear it. The humming breath has a way of loosening your jaw, mouth, lips, and tongue – areas that tend to tense up when you’re nervous. Once you’ve found your hum, repeat it whenever you start to feel anxious – whether you’re standing, sitting, or walking. Let it be easy and fun. Over the course of the day, the soothing effect will build, helping you become more and more relaxed for the big event.

Exercise by Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga. Taken from Real Simple Magazine, September 2015

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Working through painful experiences

With pen and paper close by take some quiet time to let a past resentment or hurt fully bloom in your consciousness. Notice how you feel – is your body tense, has your breathing become more rapid? Now pay attention to what you are telling yourself about what happened. You might hear something like, these things always happen to me or what did I do to deserve that or why is life so unfair? Write down exactly what happened along with all of your questions and feelings. Other questions to explore include:

As you go over past hurts change the question from why to now what. Asking why keeps you in a position of powerlessness because your focus stays on the person and the pain he or she caused. Asking why is not useful because you will never be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Asking now what is a more useful question because it puts you in the driver’s seat. Now what reminds you that you can decide where you go and what you do next.

How does it help me to hold onto painful feelings?

How would it help me to let them go?

Was there anything I really could have done differently or is the feeling that I could have based on my current (older, stronger) self? This question is particularly important if you were abused as a child.

Did the person that caused the harm have the emotional capacity or willingness to treat you in the way you deserved to be treated?

Is there anything useful or good that you can take away from the experience?

Mine your past for lessons not excuses for limits. Don’t use past pain as an excuse for future mistakes and shortcomings. ]

Forgiveness does not mean the person that caused you pain is getting away with it. The behavior is still wrong and hurtful. But refusing to let it go does not change what happened. Often, it only limits what can happen because anger closes you off leaving little room for many of the good things in life.

Decide you don’t have to stay stuck in your pain because you are left without answers or apologies. You may not ever hear the person say what he or she did was wrong or you may never even get an acknowledgment that it even happened. Freeing yourself from a painful place is possible regardless of what the other person does or does not do. Waiting for them to make the first move will only keep you stuck instead of in your own power to change the course of your life.

I am always in control of myself…you cannot take me out of my character

The next time you have a difficult or upsetting conversation with someone, pay attention to the dialogue running inside your head. When you focus on trigger thoughts like:

  • who do you think you’re talking to?!
  • you’ve got the wrong one, this @#%$#% must think I’m soft!
  • I have to get with her or check her so she knows she can’t talk to me any kind of way

It can be very difficult to stay calm and uncover what is really upsetting you or what you need in the moment. Trigger thoughts rob your focus, so instead of using your emotional energy responding to your own needs in the heat of the moment you spend that energy reacting to the other person.  Try this instead:

Pause – take just a few seconds to breathe and check in with yourself. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • what is happening for me right now?
  • why do I feel so angry?
  • what am I telling myself about what is going on right now?
  • is this about what is happening right now or does this make me remember something else that was painful?
  • what do I need in this moment?
  • what do I need in this moment to act in a way that I will feel good about later?
  • is this even about me? maybe she is going through something.

Decide it is okay to focus on your self care instead of your ego during this difficult conversation. Some ways to talk to yourself include:

  • this feels hard
  • I feel angry but I don’t have to act outside my character
  • all relationships have ups and downs, good days and bad days
  • I can decide how I want to respond, I am in control of myself
  • everything is always changing, this difficult moment will pass

Conflicts are a normal part of every life and every relationship. Instead of thinking of it as a challenge, think of conflict as an opportunity to understand yourself and your needs better. Use conflict as an opportunity to improve your communication skills and be your own best advocate. How you choose to respond during a conflict can mean the difference between going to jail or getting fired from your job and keeping your job and staying free to keep working on your goals. The only person that can decide if you stay in your character is you. You are always in control of yourself.

Living Intentionally

And if only one more hour…? Those may not be the exact words, but that is the gist of a quote I came across several months ago. I cut the words into a small strip of paper that is now pinned to a bulletin board in my office.

We all know that death is inevitable. We hope the day is far away. But what if it isn’t?

Reading those words reminded me of how precious time is. Still, I squander time and take my relationships with self and others for granted. I refuse to abandon the superfluous, choosing instead to occupy myself with things, thoughts and activities that really don’t matter.

Perhaps it sounds cliché, but for those of us with seemingly endless days ahead it is very important to live in a way that, at least occasionally, considers the question – and if only one more hour…? It does not seem reasonable or prudent to take for granted the gift of health or time. Everyone does not get to enjoy these gifts.

Some of us are, inexplicably, given more time. It seems a shame to squander it when so many others wish desperately for another, day, year, or decade. Assuming you have it how will you make the most of it?

Living intentionally invites us to consider some of life’s larger questions. So, if only one more hour…? How you answer may uncover some clues that help you improve the quality of your time, your choices and your life.

“You can go your own way”

Women are making some strides politically and in the corporate world, but what about socially? Not so much.

There remains an underlying vein of discomfort – even guilt – as we break away from long loathed limits. “Having it all” comes up often, but that isn’t the real issue. The real issue is having the freedom from cultural pressure to identify and choose what we want. Then to actually go for whatever that is without apology.

The dreams our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, and even mothers, dreamt are becoming real. We have more choices about what we can do, but not as many real choices about how we can be. There is still a great deal of tension related to identity, gender socialization and life choices.

For example, do we choose from the multiple roles available to us (employee, mother, leader, wife, partner, etc.) or does the cultural current simply carry us along until we settle into these roles. How do they fit together and how do we reconcile the sometimes conflicting responsibilities of each? How do we find (and use) our voices when our subconscious minds still believe on some level that women should be accommodating and made of the requisite sugar, spice and everything nice?

The next frontier we conquer must be social and cultural norms. Our job as women with more choices is to actually embrace and exercise them without regard for the cultural limits that keep us in conflict with ourselves. You know the limits. They show up in our willingness to speak up for everyone except ourselves; torment us whether we work in or outside the home, encourage us to stay in unhappy relationships, and fill us with doubt about our life choices.

The fear of cultural backlash can make it difficult for women to be honest about who they are and what they want. We worry about being perceived as a “ball buster” or a bad mom. We worry about how it will look if we are single, without children or divorced. We worry about fitting in and about not upsetting the status quo. We’ve had a lifetime of worrying about the right way to be a woman. That will not earn us a second life. We will still get only one.

Living with domestic violence

There is a saying that goes, do not allow yourself to be led away from the truth by what you would like to believe.

Domestic violence can be particularly difficult to come to terms with because of the complexity of emotions, values and hopes involved. Letting go of the hope that everything will be okay happens over a period of time, rather than in a day or a single moment. Some women leave and go back several times. If that describes you – never give up on yourself. You deserve a relationship free from physical and emotional violence. If that describes someone you know – never give up on her or assume “she likes it.” All people want and deserve to be happy and free from suffering.

Check back tomorrow for some of the warning signs of domestic violence

Just Breathe

Each time you wash your hands today, pause for a moment. Slow down and breathe deeply, allowing your belly to fully expand as you inhale. Exhale slowly and sigh out loud as the breath moves out of your body. Remember to sigh. Sighing can help you regulate disrupted breathing patterns and lead to feelings of calm.

Breathe deeply throughout the day and remind yourself that you are okay.

While you are taking a breath break why not also take a break from trying to manage what others think of you or how they feel about you?

She who trims herself to suit everyone will soon whittle herself away. – Anonymous

Choosing to forgive

Forgiveness does not mean the person that caused you pain is getting away with it. The behavior is still wrong and hurtful. But refusing to let go of anger and pain does not change what happened. Often, it only limits what can happen because anger closes you off, leaving little room for many of the good things in life.

Decide you don’t have to stay stuck in your pain because you are left without answers or apologies. You may not ever hear the person say what he or she did was wrong. You may never even get an acknowledgment that it even happened. That does not change what you know to be true.

Freeing yourself from a painful place is possible regardless of what the other person does or does not do. Waiting for them to make the first move will only keep you stuck instead of in your own power to change your sense of self in relationship to the hurtful event.