Room to breathe

by Kat


As I was sitting in one of the cafes I frequent, a friend asked how my summer was going so far. It’s been a busy few months with summer school, the part-time job, and figuring out my fall schedule (still not sure about that last item — getting closer).  We talked for a while, and she said it sounded like I finally had some room to breathe. I suppose I do since I’m just working  in the afternoons. It’s been nice to have the mornings to myself for slow breakfasts and Netflix. I’ve even had the chance to start watching Orange is the New Black, which is turning out to be a decent character dramedy (1, 2).

I thought it was interesting that my friend mentioned the importance of finding room to breathe. She saw me last month having lunch at the same cafe when I was in the middle of summer school and visibly stressed out. I have trouble hiding when I’m anxious about schoolwork, even more so when I’m worried that other people are noticing how scattered I’m feeling. There was a typed page of responses on my coffee table (now sitting in a plastic sleeve that I’m probably getting back out once the fall semester starts) that I could use when I started feeling overwhelmed. Once I get to that point, I can’t seem to stop the tape running in the back of my head exclaiming, “I’m never getting this done” or “There’s too much.” But I could deliberately remind myself, “There’s a lot and that’s scary, but I will read and do what I can” as I breathed deeply.

I’ve noticed that I forget to breathe when I’m feeling particularly anxious. I may not even know what I feeling, but I get the sense that I’m not really there or processing things as well. My pulse speeds up, and my breathing becomes shallow. I’ll need people to repeat their questions and give me time to ponder my responses. In those moments, I feel as if my brain is trying to wander away from me as I try to describe what is going through my head. If someone asks what I’m thinking then, I tend to respond with “I don’t know…” and hope they’ll wait for me to find the words. I usually do; it just takes longer for me when I feel like I’m slipping away. Sometimes the anxiety gets to me before I realize it.

During those times, it helps to focus on my breathing: I wrap my arm around my stomach and feel my diaphragm slowly rise and fall. When I have my mp3 player with me, sometimes I’ll listen to slow, familiar songs and sit for a few minutes while I breathe deeply. “Sophie’s Theme” by Richard Marvin is one of my favorites for such times (3). Other times, I’ll look to see if I have a small object in my bag to trace with my fingers and move between my hands — palm-sized stones work well since I can feel the grooves with my thumb and index fingers. Focusing on the novel, sensory experience of holding the stone helps me keep my thoughts in the present  moment — “What does the rock feel like between my fingers? How could I describe it?”

For me, finding room to breathe means noticing spaces in my life where I feel calm. Summer is usually a time for me to watch indie films or marathons of missed television shows and read for pleasure. Grad school summers tend to be busier with summer session and fall quickly approaching, but I’m trying to find a schedule that works for me during this time when things are a bit quieter.

  1. “Orange Is The New Black”: Taking Privilege to Task —
  2. New Netflix Show “Orange is the New Black” is a Complex Look at Sex, Gender, and Prison —
  3. “Sophie’s Theme” –