Do you feel frustrated when someone suggests you take deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed? The breaths don’t magically shrink our to-do lists, do they? If you belong in this category of humans, you are not alone and your experience is to be expected! In fact, the reality is- coping and mindfulness skills are not meant to be “stress/anxiety relievers.” That is a misconception and one that is widely circulated, contrary to its function and the science behind how these strategies are meant to help.
Instead, what I share with my clients about tools such as deep breathing, meditation, coloring/mindful walks, going for a run, yoga, and others is that they are meant to be activities that keep you on your lifeboat when you are in the metaphorical stormy waters. These tools are meant to help you stay afloat, rather than fall off and (barely) tread water or even drown. They are not meant to calm the waters or make you feel less scared/worried/overwhelmed as you traverse this storm.
As a psychologist (and fellow human) myself, I wished for a very long time that breathing exercises and working out on my Peloton would be the keys to peace and contentment. It took me awhile to get used to this understanding that the strategies to cope are not tools for long-term healing. It’s like taking an ibuprofen to reduce inflammation (which can be critical after an injury), but for long-term healing there is more that we can do in therapy to regulate our nervous system, gain insight of patterns, and practice new behaviors in a safe, non-judgmental environment.
So, the next time you are needing a breather from anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed or feeling exhausted, I encourage you to take a self-compassionate moment, even if it’s 5 minute standing yoga class, a 5 minute meditation, stepping outside of your workspace, or even steeping tea for a few minutes. Why? It won’t change your thoughts/emotions (it’s not meant to). But what it can do is get you feeling as if you are not going to drown- that you can stay on the boat during the storm.
On most days, that feeling that you can traverse a storm can be powerful. Ultimately, however, if you are often feeling as if you are about to fall off that life boat, please reach out for therapy. There is only so much that breathing, walking, coloring, and Netflix can do for our long-term healing and wellness. You don’t need to experience the storm alone.