I had my summer planned: there were going to be hikes, coffee dates, and lazy days in the sun. My plans came to a screeching halt when an unlikely accident left me with a broken bone and significant muscle damage.
On the hottest day of the summer, I wasn’t sitting at the top of the mountain sipping water, satisfied with my climb. I was sitting in a hospital gown, waiting for surgery and not allowed to eat.
As I sat there, the anxiety grew before my eyes like magic bean seeds outside the window. How many needles will this take? Are my veins plump enough to get it on the first try? How many hours will I need to wait? Will the anesthetic knock me out for surgery? What if I'm allergic to anesthetic? How painful will this surgery be? But, most importantly, how many needles do I need to get?!
Anxiety is as powerful as alcohol when it comes to distorting your rational thinking. It took a concentrated effort to sober myself up from the anxiety.
I’d once heard my therapist suggest a simple breathing technique to help calm anxiety. Alone and immobile in my hospital room, my go-to techniques were unavailable to me. Since there was nowhere to run, I practiced breathing as I had been taught: in four second intervals. Breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four, and hold for four. Repeat. This is basic mindfulness.
It was a gradual sort of magic, nothing terribly dramatic or overwhelming. Though it couldn’t take away the pain of that thin metal entering my arm, it did alleviate the sick feeling in my stomach. I realized that the needle itself was neither bad nor good: it would hurt, yes, but it would also ease my pain. Mindfulness doesn’t answer the anxiety questions; what it does do is soften and quiet them.
It is important to be gracious with yourself when performing mindfulness exercises. There’s no need to be perfect: if you are doing it at all, you are succeeding. Imperfectly performed exercises may actually be more effective because they teach you to be compassionate with yourself.
When I started breathing, suddenly I became just a person awaiting surgery – one of many patients in the hospital, some with ailments more serious than mine and others less. The doctors awaiting me had learned to fix injuries like mine through dedication and hard work. Their days were filled with a series of inspections, incisions, and adjustments. Outside the hospital, the world buzzed with life and wove a billion different stories, some of which would inevitably include injuries like mine.
Anxiety wraps you up into a very tight bundle of yourself. As I breathed in intervals of four, my world grew. Practicing mindfulness helped me see myself as part of a bigger picture.
By Jeana Les