In the last blog we discussed the metaphor of stress testing of physical material as a way to introduce the idea of what stress is and what it does. And, at that time I took pains to let you know that such an analogy, although instructive, is severely limiting in understanding how HUMANS deal with stress.
We are neither concrete nor 2x4s. We are living, breathing, changing, adapting, dynamic beings who respond to our environment with a vast array of tools beyond just molecular cohesion. We may embody a physical form subject, to some degree, to the rules of matter and mechanical physics, but operationally, functionally, we are quantum physical creatures disobeying those physical laws at every turn. Our minds create, recreate, delete and change experiences and realities all the time. We adapt to events we could never even conceive of happening to us and evolve in the most inhospitable circumstances. What accounts for this obstinate tendency? Our life force. Remember that from our last blog? The spring that keeps the keyboard buttons up?
From the moment we are born we are endowed with the hardware and software preparing us to fight the most fundamental and universal force keeping us down: gravity. Yes, we are born to fight gravity because we depend on being able to ambulate. No movement, no exploration, no expansion of geography and severely limited life experience. We have to move, we have to deal with gravity. Our identity, autonomy, survival depends on it.
Thus, we are born oppositional and we have an insatiable desire and commitment to not only fighting this force but to tame it. This fighting spirit, this fuck-you-gravity attitude is the core of our physical and quantum physical development. Our core stomach muscles along with the strongest muscles in the body: our heart , gluteus Maximus, Quads, Calves, and related skeletomuscular structures work together to keep us vertical and moving. When you take a step you move one leg up, stand on the other, control the fall until the other foot comes down. For a moment you are stable and you do it all over again. We control this fall repeatedly and call it walking. Just getting up off the chair requires you lift half your body weight a certain distance. Pick up a pen and you are fighting gravity. In fact, keeping your eyes one, your mouth closed and pants up are all examples of this primitive and perpetual fight.
Every one of us is born this way. Even if we are born with physical limitations that doesn’t allow us to physically handle gravity well, we are born with the psychological and spiritual force to fight it. I have observed this over and over again in children with severe physical limitations: Their spirit is often so vital and active, and regardless of their limitations, their tendency to fight against “oppression” by their condition is zealous. They are some of the strongest people I have met and I reflect upon their strength whenever I am dealing with something that is limiting my abilities.
So, while we strive to be free from the forces of gravity we, in the meantime, learn to work with it and use it to our advantage. This is called LIBERTY. The opportunity to exercise our sense of liberty, our life force, is imbedded in our every cell and in every action. Its is a clever tendency we can apply to any force that keeps us down. It is life force’s judo move.
So, unlike a 2x4 that cracks under a certain amount of pressure, we adapt, change our inner and outer characteristics, push back against the press, and do what we can to resist, shape-shift, and give that press a really hard time. Every time we do this, even if it is not successful in reducing the stress, it makes us feel a little bette and gives us a sense of agency and power. Prisons are filled with examples of such a perpetual fight against oppression. Inmates may not win release by bucking the system but they sure push back on the oppressive force they face daily enough to stress it back and gain, in the process, a strange sense of dignity.
Now, let’s make this personal and take it out of the theoretical zone. Remember the last time you experienced a sudden stress? At first you thought you could not get through it, and since time does not stop, you slogged through—that means you adapted, maybe changed things around an fought back, and you came through you evolved—that means you came out the other side of this stress wiser, more knowledgeable and more adaptive. You are not the same person and will not feel the same stress again with the same stressor. That does not mean you won’t feel stressed if the same thing happened again, it just means you will react differently, you will know the stress will pass and you will have acquired some tools to deal with it. Everyone has been through something like this. Everyone can find an example in life that reflects this type of situation.
So, the first step in dealing with stress is ask yourself: Have I gone through something like this or similar to this before? The moment you do this you are asking yourself, unconsciously, to bring forth your learned adaptive behaviors and time perception. How you perceive time’s passage changes the way you respond to stress (more about time perception and stress in a later blog).
Now, what if the answer to the above question is NO? What if you have never before faced this particular stress or situation? Remember in our last post we talked about strengthening the stuff being stress-tested by surrounding it with external supports? That applies here. If you have never dealt with something before you need to find people who have. Others aren’t you, that is true. And you and “they” may not share the same ecosystem, values, etc. but you can glean from others’ adaptation methods and use it to form to your own skills and methods to deal with your stress. A lot of people get cancer. Not two of them are alike even with the same exact cancer. But knowing the general course of treatment, options, pitfalls, emotional and physical pains others have gone through will at least give you the sense that you are not alone, that you can find stories of hope and methods of dealing with grief and stress.
Being with others during times of stress not only provides you with an exoskeleton but it also strengthens you from within. Imagine you are going into battle; doing so alone, no matter how strong you are, not only makes you more vulnerable externally but creates more insecurity. Now imagine a whole bunch of other fighters showed up; the battle is still a battle but you are stronger both inside and out.
In my own life this has been profoundly true. Disasters of unimaginable nature and proportion brought out friends and support without whose help I would not be writing this blog. So, unlike the 2x4, you can reach out and gather people, even strangers, who have gone through what you are going through and create a support network as the first step in dealing with stress. Ask for support first and foremost.
Next blog: When life throws dog doodoo at us.