Monday, April 6, 2009

Stress Management

Morning Tea -- original oil painting by Steve Henderson of
I’m going to talk about knitting for a bit, but stay with me here – this really has to do with stress management, and you don’t have to pick up knitting as a hobby. Promise.

As you probably know, knitting anything involves creating lots and lots – thousands and thousands – of individual little stitches, one at a time. No matter how fast a person knits, the process is still a slow one.

The other day I was purchasing yarn in a shop when the owner commented, “Oh, do you do the latest method of knitting socks? This is really the in thing.”

“Cutting edge knitting? My computer is cutting edge. I knit to get away from my computer.”

“Oh yes – it’s knitting two socks on one round needle. It’s ever so much faster and more efficient.”

“If I want fast and efficient socks, I’ll buy them.”

She looked disappointed in me, similar to the way the dog looks at me all the time.

Only in America do we take our leisure activities and turn them into assembly line production. On the rare occasions when we do relax, we insist upon doing it fast and efficiently.

We are a society of people who do things, literally marking the success or lack of success of that day by how many checks we put on our list. Lots of checks translate into a positive day, earning us an extra mental gold star or something.

It’s not such a bad concept as long as it is kept in control, and people who do a lot – you know who you are – need to put some brakes on to this tendency to paint and create and think and perform and inspire. Sometimes, it’s necessary to just NOT do – to drink a cup of tea without musing how the tea pot would look in a still life; to sit with the cat on one knee and the account books not on the other; to take a walk without measuring your pulse rate.

In our collective societal mind, however, if something doesn’t serve a palpable and observable purpose, then it simply isn’t worth doing. It is this attitude, I think, that keeps us from relaxing – effectively or not – because we can’t see any observable result from lying around in a hammock all day. And yet there are definite results – albeit difficult to pinpoint – from resting and taking time away.

Our minds are always working whether we are focusing on a problem or not. How many times have we sought a particular name on the tip of our tongue – agonized about it, really, to the annoyance of everyone around – and had it pop into our head as we’re scooping out the kitty litter?

(If we want to get efficiently American about this all, consider how we were able to get the kitty litter box cleaned out and the name identified at the same time.)

In the same way, when we give ourselves permission to take time off – truly take time off – whether it’s an hour or a day or an actual vacation that doesn’t involve a cell phone or a laptop or a sketchbook of ideas – we’re allowing our brain and our body and our spirit to refocus their energy elsewhere.

We are not machines. We are not designed to run at top capacity and top speed all the time, with a little fuel and oil tossed in at intervals to keep the motor going. We are humans, which means that we are more inefficient than machines, but we are also more . . . human. I would much rather deal with a humane person than a machine one.

Granted, we can, and do, drive ourselves to top efficiency, but at a cost, both to our physical and mental selves as well as, ironically, to our efficiency. Like it or not, humans have to sleep – yes, there are those oddities who brag about functioning on three hours of sleep a night, but that’s what they are doing, functioning, and at some point their bodies are going to announce, “I’m tired of functioning. I’m going to collapse now.”

In the same way that we need to sleep, we also need to relax – regularly, just like eating. Some people need to relax more than others, but everyone needs to do it, and probably more than they are doing it now.

I have a friend who drives herself at top speed for long periods of time until finally, one day, she catches the disease of the month and is floored with the flu for a week or so. Her children joke about this: “Oh, mom’s resting. She doesn’t have any choice.”

Personally, I would rather rest when I’m healthy and get some enjoyment out of the experience. So I knit, slowly, one sock at a time. Or I sit in the hammock and don’t knit. Or I drink a cup of tea. Or I vacation with my family and walk along the beach, letting the white sound of the ocean waves interfere with my brainwaves. Or I take a walk with The Artist around the property. Or I read a mystery book.

You get the idea.

Make your day smile -- Acquire Fine Art --

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