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Home > Blog > When the Pace Gets Too Frantic
Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, July 20, 2005 11:27 AM
When the Pace Gets Too Frantic
Kevin Salwen on Health & Wellness

I called an entrepreneurial friend yesterday to move a meeting we had and I noted that he sounded thoroughly and almost humorously stressed. As he told me about the project he was completing for a major client, he quickly blurted out a series of staccato words about his business and whether I can help with something and this and that and several others. I realized about 45 seconds into our conversation that he had not used a single complete sentence. Not one.

I thought back to my own deadline situation just a few months earlier. As I had hovered over the desk of a colleague doing some technical work, I paced like a cougar on carpet, urging him 'c'mon already!' Finally, he looked back at me and instructed: 'Breathe! Breathe!' I stepped back, actually did something deep breathing and the world seemed better.

This may sound naive as hell to those of you who meditate, but breathing is an amazing control device. It can completely change your outlook. Do you use it? If not, how do you get to where you can calm down enough to focus? Any cool ideas out there?


genevieve - 7/23/2005 4:00:59 PM
Getting deliberately involved with people who cannot keep up with your work pace can be helpful too. Regular contact with the elderly, children, the handicapped, migrants or even housebound parents or carers can help you re-establish some respect for time and space. You can quietly practise your breathing at the same time if you like, as well as making them feel less invisible on the planet. I was a bit annoyed to see how spectacularly unrepresented this option was on the otherwise quite exceptional Tree, Curt.
Curt Rosengren - 7/22/2005 6:52:01 PM
I just ran across a great visual summarizing some of the wide variety of options available...

Janet Auty-Carlisle - 7/21/2005 5:06:31 PM
Yeah to Rancid and Dropkick Murphys....My kids listened to them and I loved them. Talk about a great way to dance out or drum out some aggession! Nice choices! Living la vida fearless. Jan
Hanna Cooper - 7/21/2005 2:58:14 PM
I realized a number of years ago that I breathe really shallowly when I'm stressed, often at work, in front of my computer.

I put a neon pink post-it on my computer monitor which simply said 'breathe'. While I got ribbing from others about needing the reminder (!), it worked for me.

Thich Naht Hahn writes in 'Peace is Every Step' that instead of answering the phone immediately when it rings, that we should instead breathe in and out calmly, and pick it up on the third ring. He goes on to say that if enough people started to do that, we'd know that any call we made that rang three times had a person calmly breathing on the other side.

While not everyone has the patience to do that exercise, it's worked for me to consider the ring of a telephone as a reminder to calm myself, breathe in & out, and start anew.
Harold - 7/21/2005 2:10:30 PM
Beatings. Beatings and then ice cream. There are some marvelously discreet services available in most metropolitan areas. Then a big sundae!

1. Hitting people randomly (writers especially).
2. Emitting low clicking noises.
3. Sorting the people you know into 'kill now' or 'kill later' categories.
4. Getting a nature fix
Curt Rosengren - 7/21/2005 10:20:22 AM
Still another thought...getting a nature fix. There's a park about ten minutes from where I live that covers hundreds of acres. Most of it is forest (yes, in the middle of Seattle) and a beach with a view of the Puget Sound, The Olympics, and Mount Rainier. I often go for a walk there when I need to get regrounded.
Gary - 7/21/2005 6:47:20 AM
As a slight alternative to the early Metallica aggression, the swaggering confidence and cockiness of some good punk rock also does the trick. It really brings on a 'hold your head high; stand up to the world' feeling that puts you back in control.
Rancid and Dropkick Murphys are prime examples of this.
Curt Rosengren - 7/20/2005 7:47:26 PM
Of course, on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, I sometimes find it works well to put on some loud, crunchy metal music (old Metallica works great - circa mid-80's) and let the tension, frustration, whatever it is out in the music.

So it's either Ommmmmm or Metallica...I never said I was consistent, now did I? ;-)
Mike Duffy - 7/20/2005 6:47:59 PM
In scuba diving, when panic can really get you in a lot of trouble fast (and breathing counts for a lot - easy to hyperventilate), the mantra is 'Stop. Think. Act.' The idea is when things start going wrong to *immediately* stop what you are doing and think about the situation. If you want to read about people who know how to breathe under pressure (literally and figuratively), I highly recommend 'Shadow Divers' - it's the underwater equivalent of 'Into Thin Air' (Krakauer's Everest tragedy).
Janet Auty-Carlisle - 7/20/2005 2:52:25 PM
Two things that I love to do require that I keep aware of my breathing. I play guitar and sing, and I swim for my fitness. If I didn't breathe properly while singing I couldn't get the notes out properly and if I didn't breathe properly while swimming...well that's just obvious. I have always found that stopping to catch my breath no matter the situation helps to calm me down and reflect. Even if it's only for a minute of two it changes the flavour of the moment and provides me with the clarity I need to make decisions. Living la vida fearless. Jan
Jenny - 7/20/2005 1:53:53 PM
Yeah, deep breathing is perhaps the cheapest and most effective form of stress medicine around. After breathing deeply for a few minutes, my mind is clear enough to think about the ways in which I might be fostering the stress I am experiencing. Sometimes I'm stressed because I have to wait on other people to do what they need to do, but sometimes I'm stressed because there are things I'm putting off or just didn't do which might have prevented the stress I'm feeling now. The feeling of powerlessness is a major point of stress for me, so finding a way to feel 'powerful' (as in useful, action-oriented, purposeful, etc.) is very important to alleviating stress.
Curt Rosengren - 7/20/2005 12:38:19 PM
Yes! Stopping and focusing on your breathing for even just a few breaths can make a huge difference. It's like a switch flips in your body and your mind and says, 'Oh yeah, there's no wild animal about to tear me apart - I can relax.'

I'm no meditational expert, but when I do this I just breathe deeply and pay attention to it. Notice how it feels. Notice how the lungs expand and contract. Notice how it sounds.

I think part of it is just stopping for a minute and slowing down, and part of it is actually getting oxygen into your system.

It's like a mini-spa for your mind.

On another note, try doing a breath check at random points throughout the day. Are you breathing deeply, or is it shallow? If it's shallow, you're probably not getting enough oxygen into your system.

When I do that, I find that I am invariably breathing shallowly - sometimes scarcely breathing at all. And I wonder why I start to feel a little off.


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