May 8, 2013

Just Breathe, Woman!

Day 8: A piece of advice you have for others


(via)

Oh, advice. This automatically conjures images of Lucy from the Peanuts sitting at her psychiatric booth, though I will try to have a bit more empathy than Lucy typically showed. :)

Backstory: 
Sometimes, I get really stressed out. It's unavoidable. I start crying because I'm the sort of person whose emotions are wired through her tear ducts, I start wishing that I had superpowers so I could change everything that is causing me stress or at least time travel to prevent my current problems, and I feel really overwhelmed. In my worst moments, I get so caught up in being angry and stressed that I completely lose perspective on what's happening. 

This might have happened last night. And by "might," I mean that it definitely happened last night. About a week ago, I called the State Department to confirm that my passport, which expires in October, was good for travel in June to Spain and Morocco. "Yes," they declared, "you are good to go! Happy travels!" However, I had the nagging feeling that they might be wrong. So yesterday I asked the hubs to call back and ask them the same question.

Hubs: Hi, my wife and I are going to Morocco at the end of the month for our honeymoon. Her passport expires in less than six months. Is it valid to travel on this summer?

State: Hmm, good question. We don't know!

Hubs: But you're the State Department. Aren't you supposed to know these things?

State: Yes.

Hubs: ....

State: We think Morocco only requires that a passport is valid for three months past date of entry, but we're not sure. Maybe you should call them and ask. 

Hubs: (hangs up phone and calls Moroccan Embassy) Hi, the State Department says that U.S. citizens only need a passport that's valid for three more months to come visit you guys in Marrakesh. Is that true?

Morocco: What?!?!?! Why would they say that?!?!?! Passports must be valid for at least six months! Why does the State Department spread such lies??

Hubs: Thanks, Morocco! Love you forever! (hangs up and relays information to me)

Me: I knew it! I knew the State Department was wrong! Now I only have ten days to renew my passport! (has nervous breakdown)

It was reeeeal ugly, folks. I tried to schedule an appointment with the passport agency to renew my passport in super-expedited same-day fashion five times. Each time the automated system glitched and redirected me to a customer service agent who then tried to transfer me back to the automated system despite my insistence that the system was broken and that it had sent me to the agent to schedule my appointment with them instead. On attempt #2, the agent said that there was only one date available in DC before our departure. The only problem? It was smack in the middle of the hubs' graduate school graduation next week.

This is when I started crying. I tearfully told the agent that I needed to call her back because I was having a meltdown. I started looking up flights to Philadelphia and New York to try my luck with their agencies, thinking that I could take a quick day trip if there were any openings earlier than next Friday. Then I cried some more. 

I could have used my life advice much earlier in this process, but it was during attempt #5 that I finally remembered it.

Breathe.

That's it. Breathe. One word. One syllable. Breathe. Sounds simple, right? It is, and it isn't. When I'm caught up in the stress of the moment, thoughts flying frantically through my mind, tears streaming down my face, knot in my stomach, I forget to slow down and breathe. It's so much easier to let the emotions take over and start driving the bus to Crazy Town! However, that really doesn't make me feel so great. Breathing, on the other hand.... breathing is crucial.

On a very basic level, taking a slow, deep breath starts to calm my body down. My heart rate slows down a bit, my muscles start to unclench, and my body starts to back down from fighting stance and back into baseline mode (Whatup, parasympathetic nervous system! Woot woot!). It also gives me a chance to think clearly. Stop, my breath seems to tell me. Think. Slow down. Let go of your desire to time travel to renew your passport last month. It's not going to happen. It would be cool, but it's not going to happen. What can you do? Focus on that instead.

And you know what? It works. Breathing lets me put things back into perspective and troubleshoot with a clear mind. Once I started breathing, I explained to customer service agent #5 what the problem was, and she gave me an appointment that yes, is on the same day as the hubs' graduation ceremony, but is also the latest one in the day so that I can hopefully have time to take pictures with him before running downtown to renew this darn passport in person. It's not ideal. But it's what I need to do. 

Breathing might not solve problems, but it does give us the chance to refocus and tackle our stressors with a clear mind. It's always there for us, and we can do it anywhere. To me, that's the best advice I could ever have. 

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