Half a shade safer

Anxiety. It’s more contagious than the coronavirus. Are you feeling it? I am.

I came up with a strategy to relieve it.

And it’s working.

Because anxiety, which I think of as prolonged, low-level fear, isn’t healthy for human beings like you and me.

There’s a sort of warp in our evolution as human beings.

Once upon a time, our autonomic nervous systems sent us into fight-or-flight mode when we perceived danger — often before our conscious minds were even aware of a predator. Because there’s part of our brain that’s always scanning for danger. It’s there to help us survive. It’s instinctive.

On perceiving a threat, our bodies would tense up. Our vision would narrow. Our hearts would pound. Our blood would flow to our limbs. We would fight or we would flee.

And when we weren’t in danger, we felt safe. We relaxed. Our hearts slowed down. Our breathing slowed. We could see widely again. Our blood flowed to our organs. We rejoined the tribe.

Our bodies then had the resources to recover, repair damage, restore our metabolisms to healing mode.

I don’t recall the source, but I read somewhere that the early members of our species spent about 4 hours a day hunting and gathering. The rest of the time, they were hanging out in groups or tribes, playing, talking, taming wolves, preparing food, making clothing, making weapons, watching the clouds and the stars, praying, doing rituals, bonding with their community on whom they all depended.

Yet their lifespans were shorter. Many more infants and children died than now. They faced floods and famines, as well as predators and warring tribes.

Their lives were filled with more uncertainties and threats to survival than ours.

I have a hunch that people who were that close to survival felt gratitude for each new day. Gratitude for having food and fire and a good hunt and each other. Gratitude for the times when they were safe, for peace.

Fast forward to today’s times. We’re not out in the sunshine all day, walking around and soaking up Vitamin D. We’re breathing conditioned air inside buildings, looking out windows. We work twice as many hours as our early ancestors. We have a money economy, modern medicine, cars, Social Security.

The threats to our survival are not hungry predators any more. (Well, except when they are angry or terrified or numb human predators, especially those with guns.)

Our nervous systems weren’t built for prolonged fear, a constant sense of not being at ease, anxiety. This leads to adrenal exhaustion, which saps our energy and is exhausting without any truly restorative rest.

Maybe what we teach ourselves now about managing our own anxiety will help our species as a whole evolve past fear-based reactivity and toward a caring kind of responsibility, for our own well-being and that of others.

What makes you feel anxious? The virus? The economy? The wildfires? The election? Conspiracy theories? Race-based violence? Armed white supremacists? Antifa? The news? Karens and Chads? Maskless people? People whose anxieties have gotten the better of them? People who don’t see we’re all part of one tribe, humanity? People so anxious they can’t listen or reason?

There’s a lot OUT THERE to feel anxious about. And anxiety means we experience it IN HERE.

Take a moment to check in. Where are you? What are your surroundings at this very moment?

Are you actually SAFE in this moment?

If you have the leisure to read this, I’m guessing you are.

How does being SAFE feel in your body?

Here’s what I notice in my body.

I feel my body weight sinking into the mattress. I feel my back and legs pressing the mattress, and the top part of my body feeling cooler air. Also, that one foot that’s outside the sheets feels cooler.

I notice my chest and abdomen rising and falling as I breathe.

I hear my fingers on the keyboard.

I see my hands, the iPad keyboard and screen, the pillow they are sitting on, the tangled sheets and foot beyond that.

I see windows on either side of me, a mirror and shelf across the room, and an open closet door, and my tea on the nightstand.

I hear cicadas droning, cardinals chirping, keyboard sounds, and distant traffic.

I feel safe.

~~

The other night, I woke multiple times. My mind was thinking anxious thoughts. It was hard to get back to sleep.

Some nights are like that. Maybe it was the caffeinated tea I drank in the afternoon.

It’s not like I live in a bubble. I take precautions to prevent getting and spreading the virus. One of my family members had it — thankfully, it turned out to be a very mild case. I’m on social media. I check the news. I abhor the violence and hatred I learn about. I worry about the presidential campaign, the election, the aftermath, climate change, the possibility of a really bad economic crash.

These times are filled with uncertainty.

And a good night’s sleep means so very much in terms of having the ability to manage well.

So I tried something different. When an anxious thought arose, I said to myself, “This is just an anxious thought.”

I’d feel how it felt in my body. The tension, the unpleasantness.

Then I’d take a deep breath and let my THINKING mind take a little break by turning my attention to SENSING.

I’d feel my bodyweight pressing into the mattress and pillow. I’d feel the rhythm of breathing. I’d recognize that I was in my home, in my bed, and that there were no immanent threats to my safety. (Except those anxious thoughts.)

And I’d tell myself, “I AM SAFE.”

A few rounds of this every time an anxious thought arose, and I finally went back to sleep.

Since that experience, I’ve really been honing in on what it’s like to feel safe.

It feels good.

I am grateful.

(Apologies to David Whyte for a play on the title of his latest series, Half a Shade Braver.)

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Now relax, dammit, and get more done!

Great op-ed piece in the New York Times (if you’re able to get past the paywall) by Tony Schwartz about how stressful it is for most people with jobs. Relax! You’ll Be More Productive mentions the “doing less” strategy:

Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

The idea is that time is not renewable, but energy is. It may seem counterintuitive to take time off and get more done, but if it refreshes your energy, it is a good trade-off.

An aside: Recently I heard a teacher of biodynamic craniosacral therapy talk about the body’s biosphere — the energy field that contains the physical body and extends 6 to 18 inches out from it.

He said that in his experience, the two biggest influences on the size (and therefore health) of anyone’s biosphere were (1) getting a good night’s sleep and (2) the health of the autonomic nervous system (i.e., the sympathetic fight/flight/freeze nervous system and the parasympathetic rest/relax/digest nervous system and the body’s ability to pendulate as needed between them).

Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.

The article notes that we experience cycles of approximately 90 minutes in which we move from alertness to fatigue in waking life and from deeper to lighter sleep. Researchers have found that elite performers take advantage of this, practicing uninterruptedly for about 90 minutes at a time, taking breaks to recuperate, and working no more than about 4.5 hours per day.

This can apply to ordinary people too — people who want to break out of dis-stress and make more of a contribution.

It’s not how long we work, it’s how well.

The goal is to recover from intense workouts and avoid exhaustion. Developing skill at relaxing quickly and deeply pays off.

So what can you do to take advantage of your natural cycles?

Here’s what I’m doing: When I am feeling productive and am working on a project, I set a timer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, I stop.

When I’m taking a break, I set the timer for 90 minutes. I might make tea and call a friend. Or I might do some light housework: wash the dishes, fold laundry, or sweep. I could take a walk, or listen to music, or take a nap. The point is to do something different with my energy that renews me.

And don’t be surprised if great ideas pop into your mind during your break time.

Here’s what Schwartz says his business does:

The power of renewal was so compelling to me that I’ve created a business around it that helps a range of companies including Google, Coca-Cola, Green Mountain Coffee, the Los Angeles Police Department, Cleveland Clinic and Genentech.

Our own offices are a laboratory for the principles we teach. Renewal is central to how we work. We dedicated space to a “renewal” room in which employees can nap, meditate or relax. We have a spacious lounge where employees hang out together and snack on healthy foods we provide. We encourage workers to take renewal breaks throughout the day, and to leave the office for lunch, which we often do together. We allow people to work from home several days a week, in part so they can avoid debilitating rush-hour commutes. Our workdays end at 6 p.m. and we don’t expect anyone to answer e-mail in the evenings or on the weekends. Employees receive four weeks of vacation from their first year.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

Job interview. Insights. Shared dreams.

Today I am feeling grateful for the job interview I had yesterday. I interviewed for a three-month contract job at a big technology company yesterday.

The feedback I got from the placement agency connection afterward was that (1) I was the last person they talked to (always a good thing when interviewing because you’re fresh in their memory when they are making the hiring decision) and (2) they really liked me and my writing sample, concluding that I was capable of doing the work and would be a pleasure to work with. Apparently others they interviewed had the skills but not the attitude.

I hope to be offered this job.

My strategy during the interview was to understand their point of view and how I can do what they need to have done. I grasped it well: a custom software provider didn’t provide them with a user manual, and they needed this manual three months ago. This happens more often than it should, but that creates nice lucrative short-term job opportunities for technical writers like me.

So I step in, document what they’ve been able to figure out so far, and working with this big company’s IT department and the software developers in California, figure out and write procedures for how to do everything else.

This is how a Maximizer thinks:

  • I suggested that the user manual I write could be desirable to the software provider, and that they use that in future negotiations with the software provider.
  • This software provider might consider hiring me to work remotely and produce user manuals for their custom software solutions.
  • I might get a gig at this big technology company teaching lunchtime or after-work yoga. It’s a lot more fun than technical writing!

Will let you know what I hear!

~~~

I am grateful for insights, those little snippets of emerging knowledge that help me evolve. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my future work, refining my ideas about what I’ll do and the training I need.

Last night two alliterative words came to mind about the work I want to do with people. Blockages and beliefs.

You know the beautiful energy that infants, toddlers, and young children have, so open-hearted, present, playful, engaged, and full of life? We lose that — in essence, life teaches us that it’s not okay to be like that. We make painful trade-offs and then suppress the memories. These unconscious beliefs and blockages keep us in bondage, keep us from REALizing that our true nature is full of light, just like those beaming babies

I would like to help people recover that beautiful life-affirming energy in two ways: by learning the bodywork skills to help people release their blockages (because blockages are in the bodymind and often more accessible via the body) and working with people at the belief level to let go of beliefs that keep them in darkness and help them open up to life itself.

These two words, blockages and beliefs, are helping me identify the training I need to do the bodymindheartspirit work I want to do.

I’m thanking my bodymindheartspirit for letting those two words bubble up into my conscious mind.

~~~

I’m grateful for shared dreams. Yesterday I was introduced by a mutual friend to someone on Facebook who shares my interest in vintage trailers. I have ogled them online for months now. My new friend goes to the same websites I do and ogles the same trailers, plus ones I hadn’t considered!

A couple of days ago, I did an NLP session with a new friend, again someone I met on Facebook and looked forward to meeting in person. We had a nice long session over tea, with my cat curling up with each of us in turn.

From my perspective, we hit it off well. The rapport was good. I like this person and am learning a lot from working with him. I believe that I am helping him refine his thinking and hone his positive energy for moving in a whole new direction career-wise.

Here’s to two new friendships! Salud!