Remember to breathe


One of the best benefits my agency offers is a paid three-week sabbatical. The only rule: give back, or learn or experience something new, but don’t do anything related to marketing or PR.

My opportunity came last year. I decided to get trained as an open-water scuba diver and spent weeks diving the amazing reefs of the Florida Keys. Naturally, after logging about 20 dives last year, I haven’t gone since. Blame it on the extremely cold and very dirty Boston water.

Fast forward to last week, and I’m finally back in warm weather, ready to dive again.

For trained divers, scuba diving is relatively safe. But there’s a lot to remember – like how to safely descend and ascend and the impact of pressure and density at different depths. When you dive 60-feet under, there’s always risk.

So here I am, the night before my trip, frantically searching online for best practices, safety tips and reminders. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous and anxious. During my sabbatical, diving felt like second nature. Now, I couldn’t remember a thing.

Thankfully, Google brought me back to the most important rule of scuba diving: Never stop breathing.

At risk of boring you with too many details, the air in a diver’s lung contracts on the way down and expands on the way up. When you hold your breath, the air can’t escape, which can cause severe damage. Proper breathing is also critical to establishing buoyancy underwater and staying calm. Panic underwater leads to rapid, shallow breathing – causing divers to breathe faster, use their air too quickly, act irrationally and sometimes, drop their regulators and bolt to the surface (a major no-no). In fact, panic is said to cause roughly 20 percent of all scuba fatalities.

That’s why the first lesson divers learn in training is to never stop breathing. Closely behind: stay relaxed underwater. Such simple concepts. And they apply to so much more than scuba.

We’re all under intense pressure – at work, home and in our personal lives. But when you lose your cool, and your stress affects how you communicate with others and make decisions, the results are never pretty.

If that message didn’t hit me hard enough, a few days later I was browsing Quora (a new guilty pleasure of mine) and I came across a thread on “the best advice anyone ever gave you.” The top-rated answer: “Strike while the iron is cold.” The basic premise: when emotions and stress are running hot, take a step back, collect yourself, and then act.

Or in other words: remember to breathe.

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