“Hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “hard to keep up with it all,” “on the run,” “way too fast” – do any of these accurately describe how your life feels lately? In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte interviews Ann Burnett, who since the 1960s has been chronicling how people describe their lives through holiday letters. The above descriptions have all become increasingly popular. After reading this article by Hanna Rosin, I decided to think about how the people in my world handle stress, and see what we can be doing more (or less) of. Whether you’re a parent, a full-time employee, a student, a coach, or a ‘do-it-all-er’ (all the above), in these paragraphs you will find an attitude with which to approach your tasks that is perhaps so simple you haven’t thought of it before.
The stress response
We are all aware of nature’s “fight or flight” stress response in animals, and that we as humans also possess. Reactions to a fight or flight situation can include heart rate acceleration, flushing or paling of the complexion, constricting of blood vessels, and shaking. But are all stress responses created equal? I’ve had these physical reactions occur before a simple audition as well as just before receiving some very bad news. The key lies in recognizing the response and in how you control it. A little bit of stress here and there can be a helpful thing that can propel you forward in your career, convince you that you’re ready to make a big commitment, or motivate you to complete that marathon. But it’s the way in which we handle stress long-term that can affect our health positively or adversely.
Stress-related health complaints
WebMD claims that “stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.” We’ve all probably experienced a tension headache or difficulty breathing at one time another as a result of pressure. While there is no clear scientific connection between stress and ulcers, nervousness is certainly a contributing factor in many upset stomachs.
A simple shift
Let’s go back to the Hanna Rosin article. Her solution is to make a simple shift in the way you approach your daily tasks. The shift is to stop telling yourself you’re too busy, and simply accomplish what you need to. Then, ask yourself what’s totally necessary and where you can replace “crappy bits of leisure time confetti” (Schulte’s words) with real, quality relaxation time. There are many ways to do this, but since I’m a musician and facilitator, I’m inclined to tout the benefits of music. Relaxation is not just about fitting something into your day, like playing your latest iPhone game; it’s about adding up those bits of confetti and turning them into something with long-term benefits – like exploring rhythm at your local wellness or rec center (because most towns these days have at least one or two drumming enthusiasts who teach classes or offer community circles). A few paragraphs ago I promised to evaluate how the people in my world handle stress, because I can’t vouch for it if I haven’t seen it in action. My community in South Florida fortunately has many options for stress relief through rhythm, including women’s wellness centers, sound healing circles, open drum circles, culture-specific drum and dance classes, and much more. My own facilitated events have included one-time sessions for culture-, age-, and gender-specific groups, as well as repeating sessions for children and special populations. The other day, I facilitated a teen girls’ school drum circle at which many of them began an “I hate math” chant in time to the rhythm – their own version of stress relief. At another event I observed an adult participant who was at first shy to join in eventually pick up and try every instrument that was at his disposal, even experimenting in ways I’d never thought to try! If we can find the time to be as playful in our busy adult lives as most of us were in our childhoods, there’s no telling what we can accomplish in the future of our human race.
An invitation for you
This month during stress awareness month, I invite you to critically examine your schedule and identify at least 3 hours (separate or consecutive) of uninterrupted time in which to devote to your well-being. Check your city’s web page for rhythm and music events, plan an unplugged afternoon, or try a new activity. Not only will it be fun and relaxing, it will also contribute to being your best you in the future, if you keep it up. And trust me – go bang on a drum.