Incoming message from Tie Fighter. Subject: A Primer on Mastering Stress
My parents came to this country with a vision. They sacrificed a lot of things to be where they are today. Much of what my family has today is build off the hard work they have put in.
I understand the idea that life- especially modern life- comes with its share of stresses.
The grind is real, and our bodies, the temples that they are, will take their fair share of beatings.
However let me make one thing very clear.
I do not believe in the idea of normalizing stress. I do not believe consistently compromising health (physical and mental) for momentary or monetary achievement. Achievement will come, and then some, with hard work and patience. That is what I believe.
There is an ancient Chinese saying which states that dripping water drives through rocks.
My interpretation of this quote is simple: nothing comes of effort without time or vice versa. It is the marriage of these two elements that creates success.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”- Lao Tzu
True success is only as massive as the work that has been deposited.
Big success does not necessarily require big stress.
An exception is if one is struggling to meet his or her basic living needs. In that case his desperation is his fuel, and the resulting stress can and must be endured, at least momentarily. One can always endure stress.
I believe in grace under pressure, which brings us to the topic of mastering stress.
Before we begin, there are a few things one should consider.
Firstly, this thing we call stress is simply collection of bodily phenomena associated with our primal instinct to survive. It is a burst of fight-or-flight response and a boost of stress hormones. Were we to live without stress, our ancestors surely would have perished long ago.
Secondly, stress, as with other bodily emotions, is to be wielded and understood- Not feared. Fear and stress are interrelated, and amplifying one will amplify the other. It is okay to experience momentary fear, but I implore you to not fear stress.
In fact, I offer you the idea that you can decide when to give yourself stress. You decide when you want to push your primal buttons.
The rush of a body prepared for action. The tenseness of flight-ready fibers. The high of awakened awareness. They are ALL at your disposal.
Mastered stress is like stepping on the gas pedal until the RPM needle is in the amber. It is like activating a fighter jet’s afterburner. Using stress in controlled spurts will propel you to the finish line and then some.
However, having it turned on all the time, whether by choice or inadvertent conditioning, can cause some serious damage.
Stress in high enough amounts can shut down your entire body, from your immune system to your sex drive.
I say this not with the intention of portraying stress as a bad thing. In actuality, I believe in the concept of balance. That is, yin and yang. Stress can be unleashed, and it can be alleviated.
Before we talk about raising stress, we should first learn how to relax, for relaxation is the maintenance of your main vehicle.
To drive, sail, or soar, one must keep his vehicle well maintained.
Here are a few ways to decrease stress and promote a low stress resting state.
Number one: Meditation
I have spoken about the concept of groundedness and meditation before, and so will not delve too deeply into them. Just know that something as simple as sitting quietly while taking big, slow Buddha breathes can be alleviating. You can do this for five, ten, or twenty minutes to start. The point here is to start somewhere.
I am also a big believer in being in nature, whether it is exercising or meditating. Both allow the mind to rest and stress to dissipate. In addition, consider the idea of planting your bare hands and feet against grass, sand, or earth. Feel the coolness of the ground beneath you, and let the sky- Along with the whole world- simply go by.
Number two: Massages, stretching, and yoga
Massages are a great way to de-stress, as the tensions in your body gradually build up and accumulate your muscles and nerves. I am a great believer of real massages. My own grandfather- A traditional Chinese medicine practitioner- has alleviated many souls with his soothing hands. In modern society, things like elbow tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, chronic low back pain, and tension headaches (just to name a few) run rampant. Through my education, I have learned that all these things have a component of muscle tension.
While real massage sessions are great, there exist wonderful alternatives that one can do easily on a frequent basis.
For starters, I recommend a good set of lacrosse balls. Using only gravity and the firmness of the balls, one can find great relief for knots in the neck, shoulder, feet, and para-spinal muscles, just to name a few.
I also recommend a good foam roller, which are great at performing similar deep tissue massages for larger muscle groups such as the thigh and legs. The one I use is Gridpoint. Some people prefer the rumble roller, which I personally think is made redundant by having lacrosse balls.
As long as a firm surface is present, all you need is the equipment. Simply sit, lie, or place the body part you want to massage over the ball and let gravity do the work. Having a great yoga mat helps, but is not completely necessary.
Stretching and yoga form a continuum for movement based relaxation. Some yoga will be more advanced and Yang based- That is, requiring more tension and energy.
I suggest doing simple Yin based Yoga to receive relaxation at the end of a day.
Yin based yoga focuses more on breath work and stretching. The yoga series I recommend include the Yoga Journal.
You will find your own groove and preference over time. The same is with stretching, which is just SO good at the end of a day. Some good videos of static stretching can be found here.
Number three: Listen to calming music.
I like meditation music. I love nature sounds. If you are wondering where to find them, Youtube and Itunes exist for your services. Here are some suggestions: Listen to guided meditation while in nature. Listen to nature sounds while rolling your feet over a lacrosse ball. Stretch and do yoga to the sounds of ocean waves washing ashore in the backdrop. The combinations and routines are yours to explore, personalize, and create.
You are a holistic being, and the path of health is integrative.
Number 4: Socialise
What I suggest is be around people who understand and energize you. The really valuable people are mentors as much as they are listeners. They will not only have your back, but show your own two feet to stand on. These are the positive and grounded people in life. These friendships are to be cherished.
We are social creatures, but know that those who cannot master their own stress often pass it on to others- Either on purpose or inadvertently. Either way, I offer the idea that it is not solely your role to be the outlet for un-channelled stress. It is difficult to do if the other person is a loved one, but in the end I hope that you give yourself the pat on the back, and embrace your own humanity.
Gently plant seeds and make recommendations. However, if the other person is not receptive to your words, it is unwise to reflect stress in the form of argument or confrontation. Let that person find their own meaning and reasons, for you have already sowed your seed.
Your way is your way.
Number Five: Do not forget to laugh.
Remember, it is better to laugh with, than at.
That is all.
These are ways with which you can practice the Yin.
Now onto the Yang. Sometimes in life we need to paradoxically increase our stress to achieve something. As I have alluded to, it is like igniting a supercharged engine.
Below are a few techniques for increasing your primal drive, which I have found useful in certain instances.
Visualization of a painful memory.
Before I start, I want to make it clear that I do not advocate regret. I believe in making a decision right over time above making it right the first time. However, the truly wise will understand what queues to give themselves in order to push their bodies and minds far beyond their comfort zone. From song writers to painters to power lifters, the power of negative emotion is evident.
While they should not be channeled regularly, painful and sad thoughts- which naturally transition into anger- Can provide just the right boost to complete a task spectacularly. There is a reason why many men find their greatest gains to be made in the context of a break up or loss.
Again, I emphasize that this is a temporary measure. One should still aim to walk the road of optimism. Just know that when used in correct spurts, pain and rain may bring massive gain.
Angry, often loud music.
This tool is probably more beneficial for bodybuilding or athletic achievement than other goals. One may even experiment with the combination of such music with the negative emotions/memories mentioned above. The result is a surge of adrenaline unlike any that one has likely experienced before. Do not be afraid to roar like a cornered, beaten, and hungry beast that you let yourself become in that moment.
Let it all go.
Visualization of success.
This technique is used by many successful people throughout history. While I am a strong believer in enjoying the present, sometimes obsession is what is needed. See yourself in the instant of success. Smell, listen, taste, and hear success. Let your imagination paint that moment. Don’t think about anything other than that moment.
Give yourself deadlines.
With a limit of time, you can achieve far more than you anticipate. Set a goal, and write down your own deadline. Then push yourself to be one step ahead of it. Keep your head atop of the deadline, and the reward can often outweigh any stress you will endure.
That is all.
I find that these tools are helpful only one has achieved a low stress state, and therefor can endure some added-often necessary- stress. However, as modern life is stressful in itself, I recommend mastering and practicing the de-stress methods first.
Remember the principle of Yin and Yang. Where there is great Yang, must also be great Yin, and vice versa. Such is the dynamic of emotions; at least that is what I believe.
Be a pilot who understands his vehicle.
Until next time,
Your friend and wing man,