How We ‘Drown’ in Tense Situations
Forgetting to breathe in a high-stakes conversation is not much difference from drowning or having an asthma attack. You’ll just be floundering, trying to not die.
Yes, you can quote me on that ◡̈
If we’re trying to keep our head out of water or sucking on an inhaler, it goes without saying we’ll have no consideration for anything else. We won’t be thinking about how our behaviour comes across to others, or how we can be an empathetic and open. If anything, we would be extremely constricted and narrowly focused on our manic need to stay alive.
Isn’t that the sort of state we find ourselves in every once in a while? In some event or encounter, we experience difficulty in accessing our greater and higher selves. And I suspect, if we were mindful enough, we may find that those were the same times when we momentarily lost awareness of our breathing pattern. We may have been breathing super quickly, or our breaths may have been extremely shallow, or we may have been flat out holding our breath. This last example is a common experience. People have told me that they literally held in their breath as they braced for a feedback from a boss or colleague.
When we stop or our oxygen supply, or limit it through shallow breaths, our physiology reacts by kicking into survival mode. Add the very high likelihood that the breaths would be quick, and we get into fighting mode as well.
Surviving. Fighting. What would being in these states do for you if you were in a very important conversation? How else would you rather be?
I get excited for my coaching clients when I see a learning opportunity for them in the area of breathing, as it has consistently proven to bring powerful changes in moments of need. It’s a very good application of the mind-body connection that drew me to a practice as an ontological life coach.
Like the other facets of the mind-body connection, our breath is a chicken-and-egg thing; it can influence us, and we can influence it. There is no discernible point where one starts and one ends.
What this looks like in real life is: you find yourself in a tense situation. Your thoughts of what may happen race through your mind. In response, your breath quickens or even stops, in anticipation of something high-stakes that you are about to do or say. When (and if) you become aware of this, you can choose to deliberately slow down and take fuller breathes. You may also shift where you breathe into. If you keep this this conscious control over your breath for even just a minute, you might start to regain more control over your thoughts and actions. If you indulge in thoughts of your demise, your will find a new surge of change in your breath again. But again you can mindfully take control of you breath to quieten those thoughts.
This is how we are wired to function. Now that you are aware (or reminded) of this, you have the choice over what to do, the next time you are in a situation that brings you tension. Controlling or influencing the events you find yourself depends on the quality of the actions you choose to take.
What actions you choose to take – or are even capable of seeing – depends on the manner in which you breathe.