I made a mistake today. Shockingly, it was not my first. Undoubtedly, it will not be my last.
In the big scheme of Life and living, it was a small mistake; but it didn’t feel small the second I realized what I had just done. At the speed of light, one thought after another began bombarding me, seemingly out of nowhere.
“What if THIS happens? And then THAT will happen? And that’ll mean THIS? What will you do about THAT?”
It happened so quickly that I felt like I was being buried beneath a mountain of fear and negativity (which is definitely not my comfort zone). As you know from my other posts, awareness and focused attention have taught me how to prevent this kind of negative thinking from taking over– when I have time to focus. This was a different kind of situation, one that I had faced before but hadn’t experienced in a while — the anxiety avalanche.
One fearful, negative thought after another was falling down upon me; and its weight was difficult to bear. That’s when I felt it – that stabbing pain right in the middle of my solar plexus — the one that sounds the alert for fight or flight responses . . . the panic button.
Just when I was about to be crushed by that avalanche, a still voice within me said, “Just Breathe.” And that voice was louder than the one that was giving me all those reasons to be afraid.
I sat down, closed my eyes, and turned my attention to my breathing. As I inhaled and exhaled, slowly and deeply, my thoughts returned me to the present moment. In that “present moment,” the mistake meant nothing because all of those possible ramifications (those fear-based scenarios for what might go wrong now) did not exist.
All that was in that moment was my breath, my heart beat, and peace. I relaxed, my heart rate slowed, the pain in my chest disappeared, and I smiled. You see, all of this transpired in a matter of minutes. It was an unpleasant experience, but it reminded me of something important.
It reminded me of how far I have come and the valuable lessons I’ve learned. It was an encouraging reminder I needed today and one I wanted to share with you. Chances are, you know exactly what I mean when I say “anxiety avalanche.” It is a way of thinking that can be altered; and the experience I had today is evidence of as much. There was a time in my life (not so long ago) when that kind of avalanche thinking was all that I knew. While being prepared for what might go wrong was useful to my clients when I was in practice, it was never a healthy way of thinking for me.
The “what if this or what if that” way of thinking I just described kept me up at night – every night. It altered my decision making process. It hurt my relationships. And, eventually, it damaged my mind, body, and spirit in ways that I am still recovering from.
Learning to listen to the still voice inside me when the other voice is manufacturing a dozen devastating scenarios for what might happen next is a skill I had to learn. It is a skill you can possess, as well. You do not have to live with, be burried by, or suffocate under anxiety avalanches, if you do not want to.
You start by learning to just breathe.
Why don’t you start practicing today?
The video below (by David Garragus) provides a guided mediation that focuses on breathing. The music and voice over are relaxing and the narrator gives you sufficient time to follow her instructions. If you enjoy the video and would like to obtain a CD of this and other meditations, visit