Stop Holding Your Breath

She complains of feeling light headed and having knots in her stomach. I ask her to notice how often she holds her breath. She’s embarrassed but tells me, “All the time.” She’s not sure why – she just always has. “You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.” She looks sad, “It always does.” Right, but what does breathing have to do with that? Shoes drop no matter what you do. She’s chasing the illusion of control and the myth of preparedness.

We sit on the edge of our seats as if it would be helpful instead of uncomfortable. We keep our fingers crossed. We try not to “jinx” ourselves. We’re vigilant, hyper vigilant, waiting, expecting, and superstitious. We count our footsteps, making sure not to step on the cracks of the sidewalk.  We knock on wood. We curse ourselves for being so foolish and then we do it anyway. It makes us feel like we’re doing something about it.

“We can never know about the days to come
but we think about them anyway.” – Carly Simon “Anticipation”

Folks rarely admit that they’re worrying and waiting. Instead, they’re “just thinking”, “planning for the worst and hoping for the best” or “trying to figure it out.” My personal favorite is the folks who are “trying to get their shit together.” I ask what they intend to do with it once they have it all together? I notice that “shit” is most often “things I have no control over.”

We don’t fare well during the in between times. We “just want it over and done with.” We put our lives on hold and our self care declines while we’re waiting. We punish ourselves for being powerless.

I keep a crystal ball in my office. I use it for folks who are locked into predictably unhealthy patterns and behaviors in their lives. I foresee only the most obvious aspects of their future. I see your chiropractor wondering where to even start. I see your gastroenterologist planning a yacht purchase by the time you’re healed. I say things like, “Yes, the vision is coming clear to me. I see you sitting…on a couch…holding your breath…waiting for things to occur that simply aren’t ready to occur. Yes…there you are waiting and worrying while your life passes you by…”

This tends to piss people off. They will ask me, “Well, what am I supposed to do?

I recommend frying an egg. This is met with eye rolling and exasperation. I explain that doing something different as opposed to doing the thing that’s been proven hundreds of times not to work is a better strategy. Added bonus – eggs are delicious.

Timing really is everything. Choosing what we’re going to do with the time between now and when things fall into place is something we tend to do subconsciously and I advocate doing it consciously. What could you be doing while you’re waiting? What could you be doing instead of worrying? I get it – you feel like the whole world should just stop until this thing that’s up in the air lands. Meanwhile, it’s a nice day outside. Go take a walk and for crying out loud, breathe. Breathe deeply.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.