Tag Archives: Stress

Living Brave Reflection 9: Learning to Pay Attention (and Making Space for Good Habits)

One of the bad habits I developed in working out is holding my breath. When you run you can’t do this, but when I lift weights or do pushups I have a bad habit of holding my breath until I need to gasp for air and then I hold it again as the bar or my body goes up and down. The proper technique would be to breathe in while you are letting the weight come down and to exhale while the weight goes up. Holding my breath may give me a temporary boost, since I’m less concerned about breathing and form, but for any type of endurance proper breathing is essential. The muscles rely upon oxygen to convert sugar into energy and when they are denied sufficient energy they begin to utilize a process called anaerobic glycolysis which is a very efficient way of transforming sugar into energy, but there is a cost. This process generates lactic acid which will eventually slow your performance and lead to cramps and other symptoms of your body telling you to slow down.

One of the bad habits I never developed, thankfully, was smoking. Smoking would be genetically a very bad decision for me, lots of history of lung related cancers in my family, but something I learned while in the military was an unexpected benefit to smokers. Smokers are typically allowed several smoke breaks throughout the day where they get to break from their work and one of the added benefits was a couple minutes of deep breathing. Deep breathing, even though they are inhaling a harmful substance, lowers the heart rate, reduces anxiety and it also probably reinforces the behavior. As a person who doesn’t drink coffee or smoke (the two acceptable reasons for breaks in most business environments) I tend to work non-stop. Yet, I know that I’m more effective when I can find times to take breaks. I know I am calmer when I take time to pay attention to things as simple as breathing.

Since 2009 (and those who are interested in the significance of 2009 can read more about that here) when I crashed emotionally and my body began to fail after years of chronic stress, I’ve become much more aware of my emotions and the signs my body gives me. Some things are the result of the wisdom and challenges of getting a little older (the body just doesn’t respond to things the way it did at 22) but it is also the gift of learning to be more mindful. Of becoming curious about the emotions I might feel, particularly the emotions in the anger and sadness spectrum, and what is going on. I often discover that when I am feeling angry or sad or frustrated there is some place where I have begun pushing through things and not taking care of myself. Working at a short term pace on a long term project. Not taking the time to do simple things like read or watch a movie that provide me a recharge as an introvert or, on the other hand, seeking out the connections that are beneficial to me and spending time with people and activities that bring me joy.

I’m wondering what it would look like to have a non-smoker, non-coffee break. Some intentional time where I force myself to take 15 minutes away from my work to pause, reflect and wonder. To breathe deeply and pay attention for a few minutes before re-engaging what I do with my usual fervor. To make more space for some of the good habits that would be beneficial to me in my life and work.

Living Brave Reflection 8: Stockpiling Stress

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Sometimes your greatest strength has its shadow side. I have always been a very resilient person who is able to keep a clear head in intense and stressful situations. I have high expectations of myself in the way in which I interact with others and try very hard not to offload any emotional or situational stress I feel on them in inappropriate ways. I am very good at being a non-anxious presence and have been able to remain in a more rational space when walking through some of those anxiety filled environments. Yet, you can’t walk through an anxiety filled environment without inhaling the fumes and having the fear and the worry enter into your lungs and pass into the bloodstream. You can’t bear other people’s burdens without a way of unburdening yourself and dealing with your own stress and anxiety. You don’t engage anger or fear without the endorphins which prepare your body to fight or flee flooding through your system leaving their residue remaining in fiber of your being. Yes, there is the healing power of removing oneself from the stress and letting the body work the toxins out of its system. There is the incredible healing power of exercise, sleep, good diet and conversations with trusted friends, of being in places where you are accepted and nurtured. But if you are like me, the longer you remain in the environment the more your stockpile stress and the less attractive the very things that would bring healing appear. I am good at pushing myself to the point where my body finally begins to react to the stockpiled stress and emotions and then begins to plead its case in various ways to force me to slow down or to make changes.

Perhaps I am more aware of this after 2010 when my body reacted to years of dealing with chronic stress by triggering a number of reactions both physically and emotionally. There were a number of standard physical signs-carrying tension in my neck for example, but also others which I didn’t realize until later. During 2008-2010 I suffered a number of very painful cramps in my legs that prevented me from running for significant periods of time (one of my primary stress relief outlets) which partially were due to not replacing shoes often enough but I believe were also aided by the amount of stress I was bearing. Emotionally I began to suffer from panic attacks, had trouble sleeping and drifted into depression.

I have attempted to become better in listening to my body. Granted, I’m no longer in my twenties and my body doesn’t respond to physical and emotional demands in quite the same way but I am still a pretty resilient person. Yet, with that resilience can hide the weakness. The belief that I can continue to push past my limits or endure things that may be unhealthy or violate boundaries that I need to recharge and rejuvenate. I’ve learned that often my body is the canary in the coalmine, the indicator that once again I have been stockpiling stress. So perhaps it is time for a warehouse sale, to open the doors and clear out all the crates.