Gather Newsletter 5: An Invitation to Breathe
The end of August has historically been a crazy time of year for me and many of the community professionals I know. Summer (in the northern hemisphere) beckons us not to waste a single moment of sunshine and warmth, but there's still work to be done. And if you run an education community as I used to, this is also the time of year when work kicks into high gear for back-to-school.
This week, I don't want to invite you to ponder anything or do anything extra. I just want to invite you to breathe deeply.
I'm writing this as a reminder for myself too.
About five years ago at this time of year, I was running a global education community, managing several employees, and weathering a crisis in my personal life. I didn't know that I could step back and take a break -- no one I knew personally had ever done that. Instead, I pushed forward day after day, until my body couldn't anymore. That's when I experienced my first panic attack. Having never experienced one before, I had no clue how to manage them or prevent them in the future. They persisted until I got professional help.
I learned many lessons from that time (delegate, foster leaders, say no, take a real vacation!), but most important among those lessons was how to breathe in a way that calmed my nervous system. My doctor specifically taught me "box breathing", which I began to practice in moments of intense pressure at work and home. I still use the box breathing technique even today when I'm feeling overwhelmed.
I invite you to take a moment to yourself and practice it too.
Here's how you do it:
Step 1: Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting all of the air out of your chest and stomach.
Step 2: Inhale slowly through your nose for four slow counts. Fill your stomach first, then your chest.
Step 3: Hold your breath for 4 counts.
Step 4: Exhale through your mouth for 4 counts.
Step 5: Hold your breath for 4 counts again. Repeat.
You can imagine forming a square (or box) with your breath while you do this exercise. If this feels like too much, you can also simply breathe slowly and exhale for longer than you inhale, which calms the body too.
I hope you feel just a little more grounded.
(Please know that if you are having a tough time, there are many wonderful sources of support. For starters, I highly recommend 7 Cups, a community of listeners and counselors who can chat with you 1-1, anonymously, 24/7 for free. I'm not a mental health professional, so I can only offer my own personal experience.)
Take care out there!
How do you stay calm while building community? Share your tips + tricks with the readers of this newsletter by replying to this email.
It's okay to fall apart. You'll come back together more beautifully.
Your friendly neighborhood community builder