Monday, September 28, 2009

Give Me A Break

It's hard to handle all the stresses of a life filled with layoffs, debt, foreclosures, and should I add children? We watch each other with cautious eyes, wondering who will be the ones who cut us off on the freeway? Who will be the ones who take our jobs if the company rehires again? Who is the teacher that will be deciding if we go forward or step back? Why can't we get through the month without cash advances, or will there be a check at the end of the month? Don't we all just need a break?

The recent increases seen in the number of people visiting 24-hour clinics, the increase in the number of those entering emergency rooms isn't based on the flu or the season- it's based on stressed related illnesses. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD), once assigned as the psychosis of soldiers, is now believed to be on the increase in those who have had multiple layoffs. The fear and stress is so great that people who are on unemployment are afraid to try another job. Those who remain also fear the ax, or worse- they carry the guilt of being able to remain in a career, wondering if they will feel retribution from a former co-worker. No one feels financially safe in a time when foreclosure rates are higher than they've been in history.

But, even the every day life that isn't filled with imminent drama seems to be overwhelming. In the last thirty years, we've gone from a society that is able to communicate verbally, attend social events, and allow our children to play with each other, in public parks, or even in our own yards to a new world of Social Media, Wii Gym Class, and "smart phones". Our ability to communicate has decreased with a great increase in tools that are invented to help ease communication. Television isn't just a machine for entertainment, it is now a programmable recording device, takes in hundreds of options, and expects us to understand "on demand" and play lists. Even a Sunday drive has changed from loading kids into a car and meandering across town to plotting on GPS, adding DVD's to the mix, and perhaps self serving at a gas station, while driving through a restaurant. We can't relax anymore even when we try.

This is the beginning of a new revolution. The stress related illnesses are creating a public that relies on the latest and newest fad fixes. The vitamin industry is seeing a surge in sales. Late night television has a glut of stress reduction programs, exercise programs, sleeping programs, and we're still stressed. The revolution isn't going to be in purchasing new items that fix us- it is the idea that we're better as people when we aren't attached to all of the gizmos and technojunk and all of that which takes away our humanity, that we can still be people.

That sounds a bit hippy-new-age-froo-froo for me, right? Well, it's a fact that I spend at least an hour a day sitting quietly with my pets. It's a fact that when I'm anywhere near the ocean, I take that drive directly to the beach, sit on my favorite rock and find a moment to scream or cry, or do what it is that needs to be done to remind me that I'm able to control that one moment of nothing for just that moment. It's mine to have, no one can share it, or can steal it, and it's mine for as long as I need it. When I moved hundreds of miles away from my beloved salty seas, I found that I could still take a walk, move towards a valley, find bliss in taking photos of places that were never part of my life until I discovered them.

Sometimes those moments come in traffic jams. You listen to songs on the radio, or CD's, or MP3s, and you find it in you to belt out the tune as loud as you can. I do it too. Sometimes the moments come in unexpected packages- neatly wrapped up by memory and time, and you find yourself laughing at something silly you wrote, or something a child says, or something that you think is odd about life- but you laugh. I do it too. Sometimes the moment comes in just a glimpse of unexpected joy. You see a flower as it just starts to bloom. A shooting star flies above your head. A rabbit walks in front of you in the quiet of the day and you get that life is bigger than the computer and the remote.

For me, stress disappears when I make people laugh. It disappears when I sing. It vanishes fairly rapidly when I write, or read, or become part of a drawing that I sketch. This is the revolution. This is the break. "Break". As a noun, my favorite descriptor is listed as number
72. "a sudden dash or rush, as toward something". We rush from the stress, and take the dash - the moment-the minute sprig of time itself, and become someone who wants to head towards something. We make our breaks. If we don't embrace the revolution of leaning towards our own moments of freedom, we become the stress that makes us sicker. We need to break from that which is perception of need, and embrace our real need- our humanity. Stress kills. None of us spends time in hospitals because of feeling wonderful, free, and limitless.

Those of us who battle chronic illness, pain, and mental distress can still find moments of that revolution. Laughter is something an infant can embrace as strongly as a senior battling Alzheimer's disease. Music is shared between the instrument and its master- whether she be a deaf dancer, or a blind singer. Five minutes watching fish in a tank is said to soothe those who have panic disorder, and six minutes of singing is supposed to calm the grumpiest of moods. Kids who have autism respond to water, or sitting on a horse, or petting a rabbit, just as seniors who have dementia respond to gentle tones, and soft warm breezes. Everyone of us has a trigger for stress, but at the same break EVERY one of us has a trigger of release. It's a choice to be part of the revolution that embraces that break.

The failure in our government is the removal of arts from our education, and the loss of public parks. If we rely on government to rescue us from stress, we're seriously deluding ourselves. We can't rely on city, state, or federal rescue from the world that has changed into a techno-planet. We can only rely on our ability to realize there is life beyond the electronics and layoffs.

We need to create our own arts, our own music, our own beauty. It's up to us to be responsible for the beauty of a garden or the treasure of an orchestration. If we let go of the expectation that these things are required to be available to us, we will start to respond by creating. We will be singers, writers, poets, actors, artists. The laughter lies within, and not by mandate. The government removed the arts from our lives, so its up to us to embrace them and share them with others. We can take a cue from the USO, (, which is a private organization that gives breaks of laughter, music, art to those who are battling the stress of being in the military.

We can only live our dreams if we give ourselves permission to dream. This means refusing to let the stress take us in. This means refusing to be part of the non-stop technology that is so infused in our lives that we cannot even write a check to a store anymore. This means not relying on the government, or any other entity, to decide or give us those moments. It's up to us to shut off our experience with the pain and stressors of life, and to allow the enjoyment of the smallest of moments, (the smell of a crayon, the sound of a childhood song), to take us to a place of calm. When we accept that stress can be countered by calm moments, we have truly become revolutionaries. You have permission to laugh. You have permission to breathe freely without strings attached. You have permission because you are human and that's all you need to laugh or feel. It's a novel idea, and we should all embrace it. Maybe we'll see fewer doctors. Less bills sounds like a whole new level of stress-free life to me!

Today's questions- Has stress affected your health? Do you find yourself taking breaks from your day? What do you think would be a good way to add a moment of freedom to your day? What do you miss about childhood that you think was a release for stress?