Take a deep breath: The pressure to relax

By Amy Fenster Brown

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies.

All of the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is causing many of us anxiety, sadness and worry. Articles on how to deal with those feelings are everywhere.

Surprisingly, not one expert has suggested the cure-all I’ve known for years – eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Sometimes I even use a spoon. I also tried having Alexa tell me a daily positivity tip.  As she does, I roll my eyes really hard and then give Alexa the finger.  It’s been helping a lot. 

The most common remedy I’ve read about recently is meditation.  Apparently, it involves sitting still and breathing. As luck would have it, these are two tasks I excel at. 

To begin, one needs a mantra, or saying, you repeat as you breathe in and out. Clear your mind and concentrate on this mantra.  It should be something meaningful, insightful and inspiring.  Right now my mantras are in a three way tie:

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• Always be yourself so the other weirdos know where to find you.

• Don’t let your inner child kill your imaginary friend.

• It’s a bad idea to eat corn two meals in a row.

One of these should do the trick. Come along as I try meditating.

I’ll need a quiet place to sit still and breathe, which is tough because my husband and sons are sheltering at home, too.  I’ll go in the car.  The car is quiet. I’ll bring my phone and set a 10-minute timer, which is a good goal for my first attempt. I’m supposed to sit on the floor in a crisscross-applesauce leg style, but I couldn’t even do that in grade school, so now seems like a bad time to try again. I’ll lean the car seat back for a more restful position. 

Armed with my inspirational mantras, in a quiet space, in a relaxed position, I’m ready to change my life with meditation. Sitting and breathing.  Breathing and sitting. 

Om.  Ohhhmmmm.  Ohhh. My Nooooo. 

I think I left the oven on after dinner.  I’ll call my husband to check.  Good thing I brought my phone.  Turns out, the oven was off, so I have nothing to worry about and can go back to meditating.  

Relaxing my mind.  Letting go of my anxious thoughts.  Deep breath in – do not eat corn two meals in a row.  Deep breath out – do not eat corn two meals in a row.  Corn isn’t really a vegetable is it?  Is it a grain?  It’s so good.  It’s the perfect vehicle for butter. I love butter. I should get some of that Irish butter. If I’m going to eat butter I might as well get the really good kind, like organic artisanal farm-to-table butter from free range, local cows.  That would be delicious on my corn from a BPA free can.  Deep breath in. Deep breath out. 

Why am I not focusing? I thought I would be amazing at meditation, what with my expertise in sitting and breathing. I’ll change my mantra to help stay on track. 

Deep breath in – don’t let your inner child kill your imaginary friend. Deep breath out – don’t let your inner child kill your imaginary friend. Can adults have imaginary friends? Mine would be Mindy Cohn who played Natalie on “The Facts of Life.” When I was young, I thought the producers would call me to fill in if Mindy ever got sick. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Tootie and I would have gotten along great, I just know it. We probably would have stood up in each other’s weddings, being lifelong besties and all. 

My inner child needs meditation to relax. She is always thinking about coronavirus these days and wants to take her temperature every morning and night to make sure she doesn’t have any symptoms. My inner child felt a tickle in her throat last week and had a few nervous thoughts spinning into anxiety. She plays “what if” like it’s her full-time job. Jobs! Now I’m sad for people who are being let go from their jobs because of this scary virus. What if I become one of them? I wish Donald Trump would be let go from his job — maybe that cute Dr. Fauci could say, “You’re fired!” like The Donald said to everyone on “The Apprentice.” Extra deep breath in. Extra deep breath out. 

I can’t meditate. I’m a failure. I’m a failure at meditating and home schooling my children and relaxing. I feel guilty the kids can only see their grandparents on social distance driveway visits from 6-plus feet away without hugging. 

This pressure to breathe and sit still and clear my mind is too much. Everyone is using the quarantine to bake sourdough bread.  Am I supposed to be baking sourdough bread? I should be learning a new hobby and exercising and cleaning and baking sourdough bread and taking beautifully lit pictures of the perfect loaves to post on social media so people don’t know I’m having real feelings. 

I’m done.  I give up. I tried meditation. It’s OK that it wasn’t perfect, or even good. The best I can do today is just be myself. That way, the other weirdos will know where to find me, and I won’t be alone.  I’ll go back in the house.  But first I’ll text my husband to get the peanut butter ready.