Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Case Of Emergency Tear Here

A little stress and tension is a good thing. Without it, handles wouldn’t stay on tea kettles, bridges would collapse and your pants would fall down.

A little stress has to exist in our lives otherwise we would never kick off the covers and start the day.  It’s the unexpected situations that make us dig into our adrenaline locker and pull out a wad to throw at our bloodstream and then our heart rate, blood pressure, sweat glands and gyroscopic thoughts are off to the races.
We once faced real dangers on a regular basis and some people living in isolated areas still do; the crocodile encounter at the river where you get your water, the tiger on the walkway through the jungle, the grizzly at the dumpster. It happens. For most of us though, the stress factors aren’t
nearly as interesting or dangerous. The stress factors look more like our family members, co-workers, or inanimate things like project deadlines and financial situations. Most stressors on modern humans are other humans and the “stuff” they drag into our lives. Or it’s ourselves, making poor decisions and the “stuff” that we drag into our own lives.

For some reason, our fight or flight response alert system has uploaded a file on The Boss, or The Significant Other or The Mother in Law, and just seeing a name on the caller ID can start the engines roaring. Being Italian and using my hands to gesture wildly about anything, I can see the centuries old traditional hand bite sign when I’m faced with dealing with someone/something that really gets my shorts in a knot. Something to the mouth is a pretty clear signal that stuffing something into your mouth is a comforting gesture. 

We’re taught as babies how to comfort ourselves. If mom was too busy to pick us up and rock us, we usually had a bottle shoved into our mouths or a pacifier so we’d quiet down while she finished whatever she was doing.  The self comfort program was installed in our little heads long ago and unless we remove the old program and install a better one, we will be trapped on a continuous loop until we are completely addicted to using that one and only coping mechanism. Stress rises and we run to the vending machine and tear open the plastic bag containing some calorie laden,  preservative filled thing that if we were calm, we would never eat. I mean really, anything that sat in a warehouse for four months before it sat in a vending machine for three weeks before you dropped your money in and pulled it out isn’t going to be healthy or helping you in any way.  Stress rises and we open our mouths awaiting the comfort that comes from food, or cigarettes or alcohol or, well, you get the picture.
I read a lot. Some books, self help in particular, either thrill me or I get 20 pages in and then it just goes on the shelf and leans on pottery pieces. The good ones, the ones that have a mindful practice included, feel like home to me and I return to them again and again. They usually offer a little mini tune up.  It’s something simple that I can do in less than 20 minutes, Thank God, because I am SO busy saving the world each day that I couldn’t possibly spare more time than that.

I am working on replacing my hand bites and my food bites with bites of silence. I am starting to call for a time out when I hear the first warning sign of approaching stress. I love the scene in Finding Nemo when Dory, the fish, is lost in the dark and saying “Find your happy place! Find
your happy place!” It may look a little odd to others when you ask for a short break, but the person you’ll be when you rejoin the gang will be a calm and collected one. Go into the restroom if you don’t have an office door to shut. Go for a walk if you can. Change the scenery by simply moving somewhere else in your home for a few minutes.
When you get to that other physical place, or even if you cannot leave the room where you’re at, you can get to the other mental place by focusing on your breath. Breathe in through your nose, slowly and calmly, and blow gently, out through your mouth. Do it 20 times. It can be so soft and
quiet that anyone around you wouldn’t know what you’re doing. If you’re concerned someone is looking at you, pick up a file or a book or something and pretend you’re reading while you do this. Don’t actually read because you won’t be focusing on your breath.  Just breathe. It’s instantly transforming and when you return to the stress zone, your calm can affect the others by calming them down as well. I don’t think it will have the same affect on the crocodile at the watering hole, but done each day before you enter the zone, and done each time you feel the stress triggers begin, your little moment of Zen space just might make all the difference. Practice mindful breathing. It’s free, it’s immediately available, it does not require a college degree and best of all, it’s zero calories, fat free and looks so much better than that snickers bar on your thighs.

Recommended book with Mindful Practices worth exploring: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s not just for “artists” in the traditional sense. It’s for anyone trying to make a masterpiece of their life.