So take a breath. And another one.

And another.

And don’t forget to breath out… “let it go” as the song goes.

In the UK, there’s a well-worn phrase “take a breather” that people use habitually when someone clearly needs to take a break. Which, incidentally and probably not coincidentally is a well-known advertising catchphrase of a much-loved chocolate bar over here.

But when it’s being used, and indeed when we’ve been told to take a breather, do we usually take it as literally as we could? There is more and more advice online about mindful breathing, and yet this has been the advice for decades. Only now, we’re taking it to heart. How many other well-known phrases are we ignoring?

I was a smoker until my eldest child was a toddler, when I was lucky enough to take advantage of a total change of scene and routine when we moved from the capital city of England (London) to the capital city of Wales (Cardiff). Only a total change of routine will allow a smoker to quit, in my experience.

These days, far fewer tobacco smokers can be seen lining the streets going for their “breather” – and indeed there is a point of view (again, speaking from experience) that there’s far less time to meditate from day to day if there’s no seven-minute-cigarette break on the horizon.

I was at a conference this week in Aberystwyth that had our Digital Past as a theme, and as this is a fairly new thematic area for me, I was nearly reaching the point of Information Overload that I wrote about last week on Thrive.

[ Map of Cymru / Wales via ]

In the olden days, particularly when I lived in Aberystwyth as a young man, it definitely would have been time for a cigarette break, but as I’m a Changed Man now (albeit fairly Middle Aged too!), “a breather” had to suffice.

It’s still seems a bit odd to me, to go outside just to do some mindful breathing, but there I was, minding my own business (and breathing) when I thought I heard someone calling my name.

Turning around, I saw an old friend of mine who I had initially thought about texting when I knew that Aberystwyth was in my plans.

BONUS ONE : taking a breather lets you meet other people who are also breathing.

We asked of each other’s families – both being dads now – and when I was asked how I was doing, rather than doing the Very British thing of saying “fine, how about you” (I am Welsh after all) I made a point of saying that I’d had a pretty hard time dealing with the suicide of a mutual friend two years hence.

And rather than this being a conversation-ending comment, it was began a proper, adult (not in that sense) conversation about how to deal with grief.

“Look after those who are closest to you” was my good friend’s good advice, which I’ll try to carry with me as well as my notion of taking a feature of a lost friend’s life – a hobby, a virtue – and adopting it as part of my way of life. Which in my case, has been swimming on almost a daily basis by now.

We spoke of the good times we’d had with our lost friend, and I was reminded of how the three of us would career up from class to the hill overlooking our home town to have a smoke, and how we all confessed to having “Something in the Way” in our teenage years.


BONUS TWO: taking a breather can lead to good sharing.

As we stood there, spilling our guts to shake the deadness out of our souls, it was probably more the companionship than the breathing that was making me feel much more alive, but all the same it was my instinct to take a breather that lead me to this place. My friend moved on to talk about how he’d seen a sign on an office door to Be Kind to one another because we’re all fighting an unseen battle, and how his children are having environmental anxiety.

I shared that I’d also had a conversation with my kids about the forthcoming, “coming to a seaside town near you” environmental crisis in which I told them that people who are now in their forties grew up in fear of The Bomb. To which my young son pointed out that there was still the chance of a Nuclear Holocaust with Trump in the White House, so that hadn’t exactly gone away!

“You’ve managed to double their worries!” my old friend said, and we laughed just like we did as teenagers.

Sometimes, that’s all you can do, isn’t it. And breathe.