In The Trenches

Just Breathe.

Published on June 1, 2022 Back to blog

For the last 6+ weeks, I’ve been dealing with a herniated disk. For those who have experienced it, you understand the pain – constantly ranging from barely manageable to crippling. So, you can imagine how I may have reacted when my younger brother, Drew, sent me a text advising me to “just breathe.” 

In the midst of the pain, all I really wanted to do at that moment was scream at the top of my lungs and cut off my right leg (where the sciatica pain was radiating). Breathing was the last thing on my mind (I can do that without thinking). But now, as I consider the advice with a slightly clearer head, he couldn’t have been more spot on. (I should also note that his follow up text told me to breathe in for 7 seconds, hold it for 2, release for 7 more and then repeat. In short, long slow deep breaths.)

The breathing brought me a sense of calm which not only caused the pain to decrease but also help me cope with it. So, the next time someone tells you to “take a breath”, “just breathe,” “calm down” or something to that tune, consider heeding the advice. Here’s what I learned:

  1. It isn’t easy. In the midst of strong feelings and emotions, it isn’t easy to stop and take a breath. To be completely transparent, the pain was so intense, that it required some additional medication to achieve calm. But after a while, the medication became less necessary.
  2.  It hurts less when you don’t think about it. Whether experiencing pain, anger, frustration or something else – the more you focus on it, the worse it gets. By focusing on taking a few slow, long, deep breaths, you become less aware of the pain/emotion you may otherwise be feeling.
  3.  It feeds upon itself. I realized (with help from my brother) that, as my body stopped tensing up from the pain, my muscles stopped spasming (and creating more pain). By calming my body, I calmed the pain. This works for anger and other emotions too. Otherwise, it is a vicious cycle that just makes things worse.
  4.  If not controlled, it can spread to others. No one enjoys hanging around someone in a bad mood (often caused by pain, anger or other emotions). In fact, it often just causes those around you to get in an equally bad mood. Take long deep breaths, achieve calmness and let that feeling be contagious. It will serve everyone much better.
  5.  Practice makes perfect. As noted earlier, it’s not that easy. But, practicing helps. Over the last few weeks, I’ve practiced breathing and meditating quite a bit. The more I do it, the easier it gets to focus elsewhere and let the feelings and emotions fade. And the sense of calm often lasts beyond the session. (I use meditations on the Peloton app, but there are plenty of free/low cost apps to choose from.) 

So, Drew was right. (I wrote that just for him as I don’t say it every often). 🙂 By heeding his advice, I’ve not only been able to better cope with the pain, but I was also able to see my daughter graduate high school this weekend (as of the night before, I didn’t think I was going to be able to. Congrats, Julia!)

The advice can be difficult to hear, as it often comes when you just want relief (not advice). So consider heeding it now in advance of a situation that requires it. You and those around you will be thankful for it. 

As always, I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to share with others who you believe may find it of interest. And, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments here.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners