Most of us are not prepared for moments of crisis. When we suddenly receive bad news, this can be overwhelming and send our thoughts and emotions into a tailspin. We can feel absolutely devastated by information that is given to us. This may deal with news about our health, being told that we were fired from our job, news about a loved one passing away, or possibly that our spouse wishes to terminate our marriage. This information can bring on a powerful energy of emotion that makes some of us cry and makes others very angry. So, what do we do at that moment to help us deal with this overwhelming feeling?
The simple answer is to breathe…
This may sound too simple and even ridiculous to some, but this is your best tool and it’s already in your toolbox. Part of the problem with hearing news that brings up an emotional response is that we tend to either hold our breaths or our breathing may become very rapid. Think about when you’re in a situation that brings on the “fight or flight” response. You know, situations where you either need to react or feel the need to run away. Notice what happens with your breathing. Many people tend to stop breathing normally and even start to hold their breaths. This triggers a rapid heartbeat and takes us completely out of the moment. We lose touch with the experience. We literally forget to breathe normally in times of stress.
The next time you’re in a stressful situation, check your breathing. Try to connect with how you are breathing. Notice whether you are gently breathing as normal or whether your breathing has become forced, rapid, or whether you have held your breath a bit. It may surprise you to discover that at times of stress, you may be holding your breathe. I’m not referring to what we did as a kid to see who could hold the breath the longest. I am referring to a much subtler version of holding the breath where we unconsciously hold the breath in a similar way that athletes do just before the moment of impact. This is what boxers do to absorb punches to the abdomen. It is what tennis players do right before you hear that grunt that comes with the swing of their racket.
When we receive news that our brains interpret as a stressful piece of information, our normal rhythmic breathing changes. With the way that we perceive that information, this brings on an emotional response that is very powerful. However, we can take that overwhelming feeling of emotions and dial it down. We can breathe deeply and with each outbreath, we reduce the effect of that overwhelming emotional response.
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The Breathing Technique to Deal with a Crisis
- Close your eyes.
- Take in as deep a breath as you can through your nostrils (if you cannot breathe freely via your nostrils, breathe in through your mouth).
- Hold the breath for approximately 3 seconds.
- Release the breath through the mouth in such a way that you release all the air from the lungs as well as the abdomen. Breathe out until you feel all air removed.
- When all the air has left you, stay there in that moment for a count of 3 (slowly count 1, 2, 3).
- Then repeat the above steps.
- Do this 3 times. You can do this as many as 5 times, but be careful. After 3 breaths, it is possible to hyperventilate and become light headed.
When the breath has completely left you using the technique above, there is a very special moment. The mind becomes completely quiet. Whatever thoughts you noticed in your mind before this will be quiet.
This technique is not done with the idea to deflect, erase, or forget the news you have received. It is intended to quite the body and mind and allow you to make peace with your heart. Explained a different way, this technique allows you to absorb the effects of the emotions within your mind so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
How to Address Future Crises
All of us will be confronted in the future with one or more crisis. Is there a way to prepare for these? The answer is “yes”! How do we prepare? We meditate.
There is a huge misunderstanding on how, when and why you should meditate. Please allow me to clarify that Meditation is NOT only to be done when you’re dealing with an issue in your life. It is NOT something that you turn to only when life becomes difficult. It is not meant to be something that helps you through the bad times and then you no longer need it when times turn good again.
Meditation is a daily practice that creates a framework that allows you to weather just about any crisis that comes into your life. It teaches us how to look at difficult situations in a different way than most of our minds are trained to do. We learn not to internalize devastating news. And even when news brings our emotions to the top and we are moved to tears (which is normal and perfectly acceptable), we learn how to breathe and to be kind to ourselves and make peace with our hearts and the overwhelming emotions that are there.
Before embracing the style of Meditation that I now teach (a combination of traditional Tibetan Buddhist, Vipassana and Mindfulness Meditation techniques), when I would receive sad news, I would become overwhelmed with my emotions. The last time this happened was when I had to put my beautiful dog to sleep. Making that decision brought me to overwhelming tears and each time I would think about her I would feel very emotional and I would cry. Within the first couple of weeks, each time I thought about her, I used the breath to make peace with the feeling of loss. I use the breath to make peace in my heart. I was able to weather this difficult situation because I am a meditator. Now, when I bring my Gracie to mind, I am filled with happiness.
If you are interested in learning more about Meditation and possibly taking a Meditation class, please visit us at The Compassion Center.