The path of peace– breathing

I just heard something on NPR this morning about how angry voices can  affect even sleeping infants.

Along with the news they included an interview with a psychologist who’s written books about stopping arguments– especially parental arguments– in order to preserve the sanity of children and the family. She especially recommended breathing in and out slowly– in for five seconds, out for five seconds– for up to three minutes, in order to restore peace. This reminds me of a study I read some years ago which compared beating a pillow versus meditating when angry. The meditators felt better sooner. So it seems that the old thing about getting out your feelings is only partially right. Sure, you want to let people know how you feel, but you can’t just rant and let it all hang out. That doesn’t, in fact, help.

I”ve had some anger management training over the years, and the thing you hear frequently is that once the flight-or-fight chemicals get dumped into your bloodstream, it takes anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes to regain the ability to think rationally. That’s why so many of the couple counseling folks tell their clients to take a “time out” if they’re fighting. The rules are: 1) anyone can ask for a time out; 2) the time out has to be closed-ended, i.e., you have to say you’re coming back in half an hour or an hour; 3) both people have to honor the time out.  So the person who asks for the time out has to actually come back in the allotted time, even if it’s to say they need more time. The person who didn’t ask for the time out can’t chase the person into the bathroom or down the road while they’re trying to get a little space.

But what you do with the time out is crucial– you can’t spend it hitting a pillow or obsessing on how wrong your partner is. You spend it thinking about how much you love & want to get along with your partner. You spend it calming yourself, doing the slow deep breathing, contemplating or remembering scenes of natural (or human-created) beauty.  You spend it getting yourself back on the path of peace. It’s hard to go wrong with those slow breaths. We all  know it– but we all forget it sometimes. To steal a line from a famous spiritual teacher– “Blessed are you who hear these things and do them.

copyright James Matter 2013


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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