When you're feeling anxious, what do you do?
Your heart's beating really fast...geez, this is scary. You're immobilized by fear, frozen like a statue. You can practically feel the train tracks of your mind derailing. The cars are tumbling into the sweeping river below. Yeah, when you're anxious your body is a train derailment: according to Wikipedia, it's a "potentially seriously hazardous" sort of happening.
So what on earth are you supposed to do?
Okay, take a long, deep breath.
A belly breath. Fill your whole body with oxygen, not just your lungs. Slowly. Inhale...1, 2, 3,...exhale.
Hopefully, by now your racing pulse and faster-racing thoughts have calmed. They have, to use layman's terms (this is sarcasm, BTW. I know that sometimes doesn't translate well when typed) taken a chill pill.
It's painfully obvious, and yet impossible to see when you're in the midst of an anxiety attack: breathing helps. Your body's gotta breathe.
Your mind needs space to breathe too.
Here's what I mean. Picture a typical day in your life. Sunup to sundown, put in your eight hours, the whole shebang. Mine is a laundry list of standard-American-busy-teen life: wake up at 6am (closer to 7 most days, actually), get ready, go to school & all that jazz (the "jazz" in this scenario being Student Council meetings and speech team practice), rehearsal till who-knows-when, come home, do "homework" (as if), eat dinner, shower because hygiene, and collapse into bed at a probably ungodly hour because teenagers don't start producing melatonin until 1am but that's a different story for a different day.
Where's the breathing room in all that?
Where are the spare moments to reflect? The time built into the day to consider yesterday, today, and tomorrow? The meaning and mystery of life? The person I am, the person I'm becoming?
Where's the time for prayer? For devotion? For growing in my faith, for really getting to know and experience the person of God? To build a deep and enduring relationship with Jesus that will sustain me throughout my lifetime? How could I possibly find the time-
Wait. The time is there.
It's just hiding.
What I didn't include in my daily schedule highlight reel:
The thirty minutes I spent worrying about my clothes, my hair, my reflection in the mirror.
The hour, or honestly probably more, I spent scrolling through Twitter.
The twenty minutes of teeth-grinding about grades that'll I never think are good enough.
The mindless internet rabbit hole I fell into before bed.
The two hours I lay in bed pretending to sleep but really worrying about every little mistake I made during the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade.
That's time. Time that's there for the taking. Time I'm wasting obsessing and stressing about things that, in the long run, don't really matter at all.
So what if my outfit sucks, if my hair's unbrushed, if my body doesn't look like an Instagram model? Nobody gives a single flying potato about that...except me.
Twitter can be fun, but it can wait when the world outside is beckoning and the day is bright and new.
Nobody remembers their high school GPA. I may not have a 4.0. I may not be Harvard-bound. So what? I don't even want to go to Harvard!
I've learned a lot from the internet, but one thing it's never taught me is how to find the fulfillment and purpose I've been chasing. There are some things you can't Google.
And re-running a "Greatest Hits" version of my biggest mistakes won't take those mistakes back. Dwelling on it won't make it go away.
So maybe, instead of whiling away endless hours striving and trying and obsessing and worrying and on and on...maybe I can take those moments to breathe.
I can expand my mind. Give it space to think.
I can ponder the beautiful mystery that is life, identity. I think of matters of science and fantasy, religion and philosophy, history and self-story. I imagine worlds beyond our own, and try to make sense of the one we live in. I dream entire universes into existence. And I want to know everything there is to know about the universe I'm stuck in right now.
For me, that means going outside. Retreating into the woods behind my house is the only way I can clear my head enough to think about the things I want to. And for that, I have to make time.
I have to, and I will, unbury myself from the grave of empty fear and build myself a life driven by vigor and meaning.
All it takes is a breath.