What does stress sound like?
That hum is the 24-7 communication buzz in our culture. Cell phones chirp, emails pile up, global news streams in. We text and tweet round the clock. “We check email in transit,” according to John Freeman, in Tyranny of Email. “We check it in the bath. We check it before bed and upon waking. We check it even mid conversation, blithely assuming no one will notice.” At night when we stretch out we can still hear the hum and feel the pressure.
When does tension soar?
You come out of a meeting with an endless list of immediate deadlines. There’s a queasy feeling in your stomach, and your neck muscles tighten. You land in the doctor’s office with weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure numbers spiraling. Your plane is late, the weather is worse, and you may be stuck. Stress can be positive too—an engagement, wedding, big party or promotion just happened. Now how do you get everything done?
What happens next?
If your car were overheating you would pull off the road. Successfully managed, stress can energize. When it's out of control you may balloon up in weight, forget important details, lose your creative edge. Researchers say constant overload can activate the stress-response system causing over exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones. This ups your risk for heart disease, sleep problems, digestive upsets, and depression.
So what do you do?
Try turning down the volume.
For half an hour, or a whole afternoon if you can swing it, stash your cell phone, turn off your computer and head off to the park or the beach.
In his book, STOPPING, How to be still when you have to keep going, David Kundtz, advises, “Doing nothing for a minute, or a month, will help you be more fully awake, to remember who you are.”
Or, do a ten minute retreat. Find a quiet spot at the office, or at home. Close your door and post a ‘do not disturb’ sign. Step outside, to the park, or a walkway. Then just breathe. Sit down, close your eyes and slowly breathe in and out, again and again, as you let your mind float. Think of your faithful dog, your inimitable cat, sailing on Sunday with friends, a song that you love. Breathe, in and out, slowly but surely, relaxing. Now, open your eyes.
After five or ten minutes, stretch a little and look around. It’s still you, and life is still out there. But now it may not seem quite so daunting. You can head back to your desk and resume work. Later you will be less likely to reach for another pizza slice, lose sleep, or forget simple things.
Next, rethink your workspace.
Create a space that is separate from your computer work area, and fill it with your favorite books and art, plus lots of notepads for doodling. Author John Freeman suggests, making it a space that does not require you to respond to your computer. You might find your best ideas start right there.
Finally, walk off with a little relief. On the treadmill, or around the block, walking can be meditation. I have found walking delivers well being and sound sleep. Just by stepping out the door and putting one foot in front of the other I can free up my mind. No calls, replies to cohorts, heavy traffic. Sometimes I even come up with new ideas, new answers.
Whatever you choose, talk to your doctor if you are changing exercise routines and get your doctor’s advice if stress persists. For the long range, see what’s out there.
Here are some choices:
Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Meditation Center, 302 16th Place, Seal Beach, offers free classes. They suggest meditation can “Rekindle peace, love and happiness at the core of yourself. Learn to discover your Inner values and strengths.” A new class will start Wed., Feb. 23, 7 – 8:30 p.m. (562-430-4711). Eight consecutive classes will teach the art of meditation and provide the opportunity to explore it.
Los Alamitos/Seal Beach community classes offer exercise classes and excursions, along with hobbies and how to courses, to give your mood a boost.
If you can make it, Laughter Yoga meets on the beach at 8 a.m. in Laguna Beach. If you are not an early bird, you may just want to watch your favorite funny movie or chat with an amusing friend.