Oh, and don’t forget to breathe!

This isn’t the first time I’ve shown up late in a trending conversation. Until something becomes an issue for me directly, I don’t generally go looking for answers.

For the past several years, I have improved my habits toward a more healthy lifestyle – in some ways, rather dramatically. Still, I am one of the millions of Americans who spends a majority of her waking hours sitting in front of one screen or another. And, apparently, I am also one who forgets to breathe while reading the screen.

More than 5 years ago, Linda Stone broke a story about email apnea on Huffington Post. The condition is defined as simply holding one’s breath or otherwise shallow breathing while reading the screen, mostly while reading email. The idea is that we often hold our breath in anticipation of what is coming next in communications. And what, do you suppose, is her suggested remedy for overcoming the cumulative effects of such an under-serving practice of breathing consistently over time? Well, get up and go talk to somebody face to face!

I admit freely to having a preference for email for most communications. It can be very effective for communicating information without losing too much time in yada-yada-yada.  But, what we lose by limiting our face-to-face interactions is the essence of the person to whom we are “speaking.” So, even though I like to use email for practical reasons, I do recognize the loss of other sensory connections made while talking to someone and the elimination of signals that come through body language.

My line of full-time work is in administration. We live by email, essentially, 24 hours per day. Weekends used to be “closed” days, but email continues to come in day or night, seven days a week. That’s a lot of impersonal communicating – and a lot of breath-holding if you are reading emails that provoke anxiety.

20131220-150830.jpgA couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. It was unsettling. Unnerving. Difficult to accept. The worst part, really, was dealing with the sleepless nights and emergency room visits prior to getting a diagnosis and some drug therapy. It seemed in many ways like anxiety because, well, when you can’t get in a full breath, you do become a little anxious. The symptoms escalate reciprocally: airways constrict, you begin to feel anxious, more constriction, more anxiety … you get the idea.

I stayed on medication until things seemed under control. I did a lot of research about adult asthma and discovered that, during those times when I felt I couldn’t get in enough air, I was sucking in my stomach and trying to breathe with my neck and shoulders. It looked desperate, and it was. And it never worked. It was like I had forgotten how to breathe.

As I became more aware of my breathing habits, I made an effort to practice proper breathing techniques. Upon inhaling, I allow my stomach to open out, making room for my lungs to expand. As part of one exercise, I take in a deep breath, hold it a few seconds, then exhale, sucking in my stomach at that point, to help squeeze out the air. Then, I hold that for a few seconds before taking in the next breath.

After exercising this way for a while, I noticed that my “asthma” symptoms disappeared. No night-time panics, gasping for a deep breath, no need to prop myself up to sleep, no daytime breathing difficulties. All better.

Until recently.

I noticed the return of my symptoms, along with a significant increase in stress at work, over the last several weeks. This time, I made a connection between my daytime breathing habits – shallow, improper breathing with repeating periods of “apnea” – and my daytime sources of stress.

We can’t eliminate stress. I know that. We have to figure out ways, instead, to cope with it. I always considered breathing one of those involuntary activities of the body – you know, something I don’t have to remind myself to do. However, I’ve learned that breathing may not be as automatic as I always thought, particularly in a stressful environment.

The holiday season can be very stressful. Do you notice these symptoms as you spend extended time in front of the computer screen? Take notice! And don’t forget to breathe.

Telepathic communication: the latest trend?

Very often, when local and U.S. news sources seem dry or redundant, I go the BBC news online to see what our cousins “across the pond” are reporting as newsworthy. Such was the case today.

While browsing bbc.com, I did run across an intriguing report. But before I share that, I’d like to make a connection to something that happened yesterday.

I go to the salon only once a quarter to get my hair professionally cut and styled. Since these visits are so far apart, my hairdresser and I usually spend around 90 minutes together. We generally talk the majority of that time, catching up on life since my last appointment.

Her big story to share with me yesterday was a recent trip to Vegas for the Redken hair show. I inquired about the show and asked her to explain what they do there. For the most part, she explained, they predict trends for the coming year and show techniques and products to support those trends. My immediate response was that, rather than predicting trends, these companies (who sponsor hair shows and similar shows) are actually setting trends due to the context of their “predictions” and the suggestibility of the market.

Later, as our time together was coming to an end, I told her I wanted to ask her something, but not too loudly: “If you were to leave this salon, would you have access to my information so that you could let me know where you are?” She replied, “Are you inside my head?” brain waves

Now, we can return to the BBC story. As part of their Future series, “Will we ever …,” today’s article is titled, “Will we ever … communicate telepathically?” It opens with the story of a man in a Harvard lab who sends a mental message to a rat, detected by electrodes and processed by a computer, causing the rat to wag his tail. There are other tales of rat-to-rat brain wave communication, facilitated by computers. The point is, it seems to be working. Of course, the looming question that accompanies these technologies is “How far will we go?”

It seems obvious to me that these efforts are not only predicting future trends, but are in fact creating future trends in technology. Where there is enough interest to invest in research of this kind, there is also a plan to implement it. If you Google the question, “What will replace the internet in the future?”, you will see predictions that brain-to-brain communication — linked by computers, of course — is the future many foresee.

Communication is hard enough as we engage our minds and bodies in an effort to say something to each other that is honest and loving and worthwhile. Can you imagine your thoughts being broadcast, filtered only by an external computer?

I suppose there are times I’ve wished someone could read my mind. As a writer, I love to share my thoughts. But, as a spiritual being, I hope my brain remains disconnected from the WorldWideBrain.

What do you think? Oh wait, I already know.

To be “liked”

I don’t really have 562 friends. It feels good to think that I do, but I don’t really. What I do have is something that has developed over the course of the past few years … all because of Facebook. It’s my love-hate relationship with the “like” button.

Honestly, when I post some new status or picture or blog post, no human could pry the phone out of my Kung Fu grip. I have to check responses … like, every two minutes. I never used to be THAT un-cool. As a matter of fact, I had an ultra-cool, take-me-or-leave-me kind of vibe before Facebook showed up with that blasted “like” button. The “like” factor is so strong now – so compelling – that it has caused me to actually delete posts that didn’t get a response within 10-15 minutes. The thoughts I posted that were interesting to me at first suddenly seem uninteresting or perhaps, I worry, offensive to someone. Worse yet, perhaps my friends read it and didn’t like it.

It is the ultimate false identity: the “liked” me. Granted, there is a certain goodness in keeping me on my toes in terms of what I say and how I say it. Too many folks on Facebook have no filter and ARE offensive … and of course they get their comments deleted or else their news hidden from everyone’s feed instead of being “liked.”

I call it a false identity because it is driven by validation from others. You know, any identity you build for yourself based on outside validation is fragile at best. It is very similar to the enmeshed identity that grows within some couples: you begin to do all the things that your significant other “likes” so that they will continue to validate and respond positively to you. Soon enough, you begin doing what you don’t want to do in order to keep being “liked.” Eventually, you know more of what your partner likes than what you like. The goal in that relationship is to be liked forever, but at what cost? The first clue that something is awry is the realization that you haven’t given much thought to doing or being what GOD likes.

One of the biggest challenges any of us face in our lifetime is the challenge of learning who we are as the image-bearers and children of God. My wish is that everyone might take enough time with God and with him- or herself to discover who it is you were created to become and then stay true to that identity. Allow God to transform you as you grow into it. So much of the identity we portray is manufactured by us and our drive to be “liked” by others. The funniest part is that other people most often like those they find to be true to themselves, whether that “self” conforms to cultural norms or not.

So, now do you see my dilemma? When I post this blog, I really want somebody to “like” it. At the same time, I really want readers to get the message whether you all like me or not. So when you click “like,” I will read it as a message delivery receipt and nothing more. Or, at least, that’s what I’ll try to do.