Why am I afraid to breathe

Three weeks ago, I was flat on my back during my weekly Pilates class, trying to breathe into my back. 

Pilates has surprised me in many ways since I started in early 2021. It is foundational. In many ways, I liken the practice of Pilates on the body to the practice of mindfulness on the mind. 

I’ve found Pilates to be all about recognising dysfunction and creating new ways to ‘be’. I often find myself in body shakes as my brain creates new neural pathways for holding myself.

Pilates: frustrating and important.

But the breath element has so far eluded me. I continue to breathe the same way I always have – shallowly and into my chest. 

My instructor, Emmanuelle, says I have one of the worst cases of ‘pump handle’ breathing that she’s seen. My breath has affected my ribcage and caused dysfunction in my neck and shoulders.   

So I was lying there feeling frustrated at my inability to breathe correctly when Emmanuelle asked me, “Why are you afraid to breathe”? 

As soon as she posed the question, I instinctively knew the topic was big for me. In other words, there’s something in there for me to explore. 

I stopped breathing once. I was four years old when I drowned in my backyard swimming pool. I suspect that the trauma from that event still has a hold on my subconscious, manifesting in my poor breath control and shallow breathing. 

Why am I afraid to breathe? Maybe because once upon a time, I breathed deep, and my lungs filled with water. Maybe I learned in that moment that breathing isn’t always safe.

Who knows what I learned about the world during and after my drowning?

Regardless of the answer, when Emmanuelle posed the question, I knew I would create the space to lean into it. 

When the time is right, I will allow myself to surrender to whatever comes up and release it from my psyche. Whatever the ‘story’ is, I won’t let it define me anymore. Why am I afraid to breathe? I’ll let you know when I do. 

That’s what this story is about. Space. 

I’ve been reflecting on the concept of space for a long time. I started in 2018 when I attended a personal development event that uncovered a lot of my problem areas – compulsive overworking, high-functioning anxiety, an out-of-control ego and the fact that I was living my life on auto-pilot. 

I was unconscious. I had very little free thought, rigid beliefs and strong self-protection.

I left that event intent on stripping back my schedule and commitments so that I could get to know myself. That was the beginning of my healing journey, several months of slowing down.

That time included getting to know my father after years of estrangement, months before he died of cancer.

Since then, I’ve married, built and exited businesses, had two children and ‘found myself’. (I don’t actually like that expression, ‘found myself’. To me, it feels more like an unlearning, an unprogramming. I didn’t find myself; I remembered who I was.)

I’ve made difficult decisions that go against society’s grain. I’ve moved back home; Mum reads these emails – Thanks for everything you do, mummy. I’ve chosen peace over money. I’ve prioritised ‘being’ over ‘doing’. I’ve stripped my life back in a way that’s shaken the core of my identity. 

And through these decisions, I have CREATED a life for myself that includes SPACE for myself. 

I’m not talking about ‘physical’ space. With six people in a two-bedroom apartment and the whole co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and attachment parenting thing going on, I can honestly say I have less physical space than ever.

There’s always a kid or two on me.

I’m not even talking about ‘time’ space, either. Time space is when you have ample ‘clock time’ to work on yourself/ heal/ pursue your interests. I’ve gone through periods of having plenty of ‘clock time’ but using it to:

  • Scroll on my phone
  • Binge-watch TV series
  • Read Victorian romance novels – I went through a stage, okay?
  • Message friends back and forth
  • Compulsively overthink
  • Overwork and exercise poor work/life boundaries
  • Attend social occasions that I didn’t care about because of FOMO and,
  • Generally find things to keep me ‘busy’.

The space that I am talking about is energetic space. 

I would define energetic space as the headspace you have when you feel:

  • Calm
  • Grounded
  • Clear-headed
  • Relaxed
  • Expansive
  • Limitless

Today is an excellent example of that for me. Wednesday is my sleep-in day. On a bad day, I get very protective of my sleep-in day. I get irate with Dreamboat if he doesn’t whisk the kids away within 2 seconds of them waking up. I get into stories about what I deserve and can spiral into the Woe. Is. Me. place. I’m working on it. 

On a good day, like today, I wake up anyway. I help with the kids because I want to. I don’t rush to start my work; the day before me seems infinite. I’m filled with wonder and gratitude for all the time I have. 

After Dreamboat left with the kids this morning, I headed to the park with my journal, book, music, and picnic blanket. I’m drafting this story by hand in the sun, looking at the waves as we speak.

It’s a slower but more delightful way to work.

And as I sit here, I again reflect on how little of this ‘space’ I gift myself. 

When I first sat down, I allowed my intuition to guide my actions. I spread out my picnic blanket, put on some music, took out my hair and allowed myself to sit with my feelings. I observed them washing over me. 

I felt emotional, so I surrendered to tears. My heart constricted, and I felt unsafe. I allowed myself to feel it and let it pass. For fifteen minutes, I witnessed the sensations in my body, my egoic thoughts, an awakening to my environment, fear and hurt, wonder and expansion and finally, safety.

There’s nothing unsafe about crying.

I curled my toes, warmed my face in the sun, and knew I was 100% safe and held. 

Afterwards, I wondered if I could articulate why giving myself this space is so challenging. I came up with four reasons.


I have recognised how often I feel overwhelmed. ‘Overwhelm’ is an emotion I am very familiar with, having had serious breakthroughs about myself in 2019 when doing an ‘overwhelm’ exercise with a coach. (That day was a turning point in my personal development journey; I wrote more about it here.)

I have come a long way with my overwhelm. But here’s the thing: I fundamentally believe that the human race has not evolved quickly enough to keep up with our rapidly changing world. I think that we, as a species, are going backwards. 

We have more to do than ever before in the history of humankind. Work, parent, have social lives, keep fit, eat well, work on ourselves, practice mindfulness, etc. The list never ends; the demands on us are exhausting. 

We have less support than ever before in the history of humankind. Forget the village; we’re lucky to even have help from our immediate family, not to mention a partner. We are trying to do more with less resources. 

And finally, we are exposed to more stimulus than ever before in the history of humankind. The statistics around how much content we consume daily are scary. Our brains are simply not equipped to process that much data. 

Have you ever worked on a computer that has no hard drive space? It’s slow, sluggish and next to useless. Like me on a bad day. 

How can I give myself space in this state? 


Last year, I read a book called ‘Stolen Focus’ by Johann Hari. When I put it down, I felt truly frightened for the future of humanity. 

That book is now foundational for how I live my life. There is a line in the sand between Lauren before reading Stolen Focus and Lauren after reading Stolen Focus. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for me. I know that the internet, social media, TV, a poor diet, and compulsive thinking, among other factors, are stealing my focus and contributing to the spiralling of our species.

I spoke about this journey more on Instagram.

How can I be expected to find expansiveness and limitlessness when constantly exposed to fear-based content and marketing that would make me believe I won’t be happy until I have X?

That’s not to mention how addictive my screen is and how it impacts my hormonal balance. (Specifically, my dopamine response; I’ve also written about that here.)

How can I focus on myself and tap into my intuition when my mind is ping-ponging everywhere? 

Time Stories

There’s not enough time. 

If I could give one reason for just about every pillar of my life that isn’t working, that’s the excuse I would offer. 

Not exercising.

There’s not enough time.

Not eating well. 

There’s not enough time.

Not meditating. 

There’s not enough time.

I call these time ‘stories’ because they are not fact. 

But my time stories feel very real, and I have a theory for why. 

I am seldom present. Most of the time, I am in my thoughts, either ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. 

In the present, there is no thought. There is only ‘being’. I am fully here. (I’ve written more about presence here.)

Without presence, I find that the world speeds up. I am susceptible to the messaging that I see everywhere. I feel like I need to launch a business, embrace AI BEFORE I GET LEFT BEHIND (leave me behind, please!), work on my SEO, meditate for an hour a day, prepare nutritious meals, [insert your list of society’s expectations]. 

All of these “should do’s” stop me from behind right here, right now, safe and at peace in the present moment, creating SPACE for myself. 

Nervous System Dysregulation

Finally, the last reason I’ve identified as impacting my energetic space is nervous system dysregulation, a topic I’m increasingly interested in. 

Simply put, your sympathetic nervous system puts you on alert, and your parasympathetic nervous system relaxes you. 

I’ve come to believe that I’ve spent the majority of my life in a low-key fight or flight (sympathetic nervous system) state – constantly on the lookout for threats. Psychologists call this hypervigilance, and it’s more common than you would think. 

Simple breathing practices can bring you back into the parasympathetic nervous system, but as mentioned, breathing does not come naturally to me.

How can I find space when I feel unsafe, threatened and hypervigilant? How can I sit and ‘be’ when I’m in fight or flight?

I have been working on improving all of these areas of my life. 

For my overwhelm, I am doing less, surrounding myself with support, asking for help and consuming very little content. 

For my focus, I have given up my iPhone, dramatically reduced my screen time overall, minimised my social media consumption, improved my diet and started exercising again. 

For my time stories, I have practised my presence. Eckart Tolle has some excellent tools in his books, but my favourite right now is to bring myself into the present moment through my senses.  

What can I see? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I feel? What can I taste?

I scan my senses but resist putting words or labels on my experience. Instead, I’ll run my fingers through William’s hair and let myself feel it. There’s a big difference between feeling the sensations and thinking about the sensations – try it.)

My babies are the easiest way for me to find presence.

And finally, for my nervous system, I practice emotional regulation (feeling my feelings) and bodywork, any practice that gets me out of my head and into my body. (Acupuncture and Pilates come to mind.)

Through trial and error, reflection, making difficult decisions and practice, I find space. 

In space, I find hope. 

Hope for myself and my children. Hope for humanity and a better future. 

I find hope that we will find answers to our greatest challenges – global warming, war & division, species decline, pollution, waste, hunger, renewable energy and every other doom and gloom story that makes me, as an individual, feel powerless. 

In space, I find self-love; in that self-love, I find love for all.

I love myself; I love all.

Forgiveness, compassion, empathy. 

In space, I trust that I will be okay. I will earn money again. It will be enough. It will always be enough. 

In space, I find gratitude and peace for where I’m at. I don’t want for ‘more’. I don’t seek ‘more’. I don’t prescribe to rampant consumerism. I won’t be happy when I have x,y and z. Happiness is my birthright; I find it from within.

So, I will continue to give myself permission to slow it down and give myself that space. It is the space that teaches me everything I need to know about myself and this crazy life. 

Let me leave you with these words by Marianne Williamson, 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

When was the last time you slowed it down and gifted yourself with space? I’d love to hear. X

** Originally shared to my email database on the 31st of August, 2023 **

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Posted to Personal on 31st August 2023