If you’re like me, you hold your breath often.
I catch myself at it, shoulders raised, barely breathing. In a scary movie scene. When I’m in pain. When emotions take the upper hand and I’m trying not to cry. When I hold a newborn or cuddle a puppy. I take a deep breath in, but then the breath stops.
These past weeks, I’ve been holding my breath a lot lately. Sometimes for reasons that are obvious to me (fatigue, kids moving out to follow their dreams), but other times for reasons I can’t quite grasp — the frozen dew on the clover out front. The moon glinting through the trees, full and bright. The crispness of the air when I walk the dog. The snow falling in clumps after days of waiting.
As if by stilling the breath all reality stops — the dreaded thing doesn’t happen or the beautiful thing doesn’t pass.
We hold our breath when emotions threaten to run rampant in our hearts, take over our bodies, and leave us helpless in their wake. Sometimes that’s a good thing — feeling so deeply it stops our hearts. Sometimes it isn’t.
We women feel deeply.
We see our weakness and lean on each other for strength. In relationships, whether with family, friends, or clients, we build broadly, invest generously, and reap gloriously. But it takes energy, sacrifice, and sometimes sheer will power. And sometimes it’s terrifying.
Even tonight as I sit with my laptop, I have to consciously lower my shoulders and breathe deep with intention into my belly then release. Not because I’m tense or upset, but because I’ve been hauling today to get everything done. It’s been a high focus, high productivity week but I find my body stays keyed up for a long time afterwards. Or it’s perpetually stuck in high alert mode.
Trauma can cause us to take a deep breath. And then hold it.
Overwhelm can as well. How intimately I know this, friend. It can be from a difficult past. A difficult now. We’re moms and businesswomen, so there’s the never-ending laundry pile, the meal planning, the housecleaning, the kid raising. Serving every client, stretching every dollar, squeezing every moment with every last drop of energy we have.
We’re multi-taskers, monster smashers, encouragement splashers, the always-there-for-everyone-at-a-moment’s-notice MASTERS.
Yes. That’s us. We do a lot. Every single day, we move mountains. We do it beautifully, even if it feels messy. We take the next step or five. We push our passions and our souls outside our bodies into action. This takes bravery. And courage. But it takes effort. A lot of effort.
We need to take care of us so we can keep being everything we are. We need take a deep breath, then remember to breathe it out. Drop the shoulders. Release the tension. Embrace self-care like it’s our life safer. Because it is.
Self-care is our lifeline.
A healthy self-care practice demands we address our inner tensions. Makes sure we leave white space on our calendar when we’re tired. Self-care demands we push for balance. For moments of calm in between the incessant intensity that is being a woman, a business owner, and a mom. Because in doing so we allow ourselves to lean into the friction rather than brace against it.
Self-care allows us to bear witness to the fact that the hard moment will pass, just as the air will flow again through our bodies after a deep breath. Self-care allows us to remember that we won’t stay in this tension forever. That just as the sun slides across the wall every day, so will this season pass. It allows us to see that there is a solution, even if it’s a momentary step away or a redistribution of responsibilities.
Choosing self-care doesn’t mean we’re weak.
It means we’re human! When we practice self-care, we see our strengths and find ways to hone them. We’re able to acknowledge our power, our gifts, and then provide space for them to grow.
So take a deep breath, mama. Let it all the way out. It’s a little choice with great power. Let’s lower our shoulders. Close our eyes for a moment and smile at the future. Our dreams are worth pursuing!