The 20-second break is an awareness break.
This simple practice saved me from burning up a healthy relationship today; one I didn’t want to lose. It’s simply stopping what you’re doing, thinking, saying, or being for twenty seconds, and then using that 20-seconds to notice what’s happening to you and around you.
It’s similar to, “breathing before speaking” when you’re upset or angry, but this takes it a bit further. It takes presence to live your life mindfully. It’s much easier to react to situations as they come up. It happens to me, it happens to all of us. It’s easier to be the victim of circumstances than it is to choose the path that will make a difference.
Awareness is a truth-finder. With awareness comes choice. Choice offers freedom.
Stress has moved into most of our lives. It often takes residence like a family member you didn’t know you had. Stress can happen when we do more than we can handle, and when we feel things are out of control. The peaceful moments? Where are they? Add a life-changing event, and you are quickly put over the edge with stress.
The 20-second break is a pause in the middle of your day.
You can try one before you open the door when you come home or open the fridge before you grab something you really don’t need to eat. Use a break when you know a conversation or situation has the potential to rock you out of your calm. Try a break before you head into your day or go to sleep at night.
20-seconds is about as long as three to four breaths. It’s very easy to do yet very powerful. It stops the auto-pilot. It lets you notice if you are triggered.
Here’s How I Used the Power of a Break Recently:
I had to make a doctor’s appointment for my daughter. The staff always talks to her, not to me. Sarina is on the Autism Spectrum and often looks absentminded like her head is in the clouds. Nevertheless, she can speak for herself, but needs a bit more time to find her voice at times. Of course, she gets angry when she feels ignored. This office has been a gift to us because they don’t judge her.
But not today. Not this week.
On our last day in Germany, Sarina was bitten by a nasty bug. The swelling looked gross and infected. We went to the doctor. “Could be a tick bite,” he worried, and put fear on her face. “Get a blood test done when you’re back in the U.S.,” he said and gave her some ointment to ease the pain.
Back home, I left messages with her doctor. They usually call back within twenty-four hours. It took four days to get the call back. I told them my story. The nurse wanted to order the test. A minute later, she called back. “Your daughter needs to be seen by her doctor. Call between 8:30-9:00 a.m. tomorrow and we will get her in for a same-day appointment.”
At 8:30 a.m. I placed my first call to the answering machine and about thirty-three more calls in the next 30 minutes. I needed this appointment.
At 9:10 a.m. a voice I didn’t recognize answered and cut me off before I could finish my sentence. Trigger #1. This woman must have been bitten by a bug herself, her voice was commanding, “You have to call at 8:30 sharp.” Trigger # 2 “Like instructed!” Trigger # 3. “Like everybody else.” Trigger #4.
I forgot to breathe.
This was a tiger, not just an everyday trigger. I got ready to win this fight. I didn’t. Instead, she up-leveled. “Ma’am,” (usually not a trigger, but today it fit the bill) “Call back tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. sharp.” Sharp? Again? That was trigger #5.
I lost it. Shouting at her, I flew into a fit about my difficult life with my autistic daughter and the bug bite in general and hung up. Fuming like a tiger I spit out my bottled-up pain, my anger. My words hit the air like a tsunami. Finally deflated I said to myself, “We don’t have an appointment. We need a new doctor.”
Sarina and my husband watched this scene. Sarina liked the action and for once did not comment. My husband had an idea, “Go there and talk to them directly. The Hell you raised on the phone is worthless.”
I did. In my car, I recovered and hugged my wounded heart. I relaxed. Before I opened the office door I paused for my 20-second break. It was magic. It worked!
The Magic Is in the Break:
And this is how you do it…
- Notice your breath, relax your body with an exhale. Especially your lips and the back of your mouth.
- Notice your feelings and your thoughts. What’s happening right now? With an aaahhh, let it go with your breath.
- Accept what you noticed and choose an intention for the next step.
I noticed anxiety. My intention was clear. I didn’t want to be an echo to the rude voice. I was not after revenge. I wanted to ask for what I needed, firm but friendly.
The waiting room was packed. A familiar face behind the desk greeted me with a smile. The other looked grumpy and belonged to my trigger. I went straight to the smile. Loud and clear I told her what I needed. And finished, “I understand your stresses. The conflict with your colleague on the phone was not needed. I don’t appreciate her rude language.”
I left with an afternoon appointment, our relationship intact. Without the 20 seconds, I would have stepped into the office with my loaded thoughts demanding my “right.”
Ready to straighten out my trigger. Ready to take my daughter’s file to another office, causing more stress, of course. It takes courage to break free of old patterns and even more courage to let go and forgive when we hurt each other. Forgiving ourselves and the other is food for our soul.
I learned about this little awareness gem in my Yoga Therapy training about twenty years ago. It had a profound and lasting impact on my life. It’s one cool tool to help me cope with stress on a daily basis.
My teacher Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, introduced it to us as a way of creating the time to become aware. Without taking the time, we rush through life in a fog-like existence. A quote I heard, “awareness is the first step to change and a most important one,” stuck with me.
This is what I love about this practice:
- It yields a maximum gain in self-awareness.
- It builds your inner muscle to cope with stress.
- It’s easy, yet powerful.
- It’s an on-the-spot tool to use everywhere.
Try one with yourself right now or with the next person you meet.
Awareness is not only your most powerful tool for solving issues, but it’s also your most powerful friend to get to know yourself better.
What simple tools do you use in high-stress situations? If you’ve tried the 20-second break, how did it work for you? Please share your experiences in the comments section below!