My friend Kristin called me out for being a rabid T-ball dad one day at rehearsal.
My MO was to help the young actor essaying the role of Jerome in South Pacific to perform his part in the thrilling opener “Dites-moi.”
I held his 9-year-old shoulders in an encouraging manner and said, “Listen, you’re not breathing. You’ve got to breathe.”
Kristin spotted the parent-coach archetype in this scenario and reflected back my less-than-helpful instruction.
“Listen to me, son. You’re not breathin’!”
(This would eventually lead us to craft alter-egos Dick and Francine, a small-town North Carolina power couple who run a studio cultivating triple threat talent. Dance Moms meets Duck Dynasty.)
There ends the story. Here begins the lesson. The first thing we stop doing when we’re in an adrenalized state is breathing.
Auditions, performances, tough conversations, a traffic stop. We stop breathing.
Maybe it’s because we go into grab-it/control-it mode. Our adrenaline and cortisol spike, our frontal lobe checks out, and our nervous system says, “get the hell out or kick something’s ass!”
Neither tactic will be helpful in the above scenarios, especially the traffic stop.
Here’s the good news. We can remember to breathe. And not just breathe, but to count and breathe.
Science has shown us that breathing in a regulated pattern brings the frontal lobe back on line and gives us the ability to think and see while the adrenaline is on full throttle.
In three, out three. In four, out six. In four, hold four, out four. All of them work as long as there is a consistent pattern.
It’s imposing order on autonomic chaos.
Anecdotal evidence: It worked well the other night when our three-month-old wouldn’t settle. He screams, I stop breathing.
But then I said to myself, “Self! You’re not breathin’!”
I tried three-in, three-out while performing the special baby bicep curl bounce that usually calms him. In a minute he chilled, and so did Daddy.
Be aware when tension or cortisol increases. Remind yourself to pick a pattern and breathe to it, and see how it works for you after a minute or two.
If you have eighteen minutes, here is a TED talk by Dr. Alan Watkins speaking about this same thing.