Under stress it makes sense to pull back on all non-essential activities. Whether we’re recovering from illness or dealing with trauma, we have limited resources. Spending energy on something that is pure recreation might seem frivolous, or even selfish. This relies on a solely physical equation: Energy in = energy out. It’s logical to try to cut out anything that uses up energy.
Recently I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress, both physical and emotional. I have (mostly) responded sensibly – curtailing my cycling, skipping choir practice to rest, and going to bed early rather than going out with friends.
As the stress increased, I found myself itching to get back on my bike. One day, only a little over 4 weeks after major surgery, I couldn’t rest because I was twitchy from the day’s traumas. I was exhausted and wanted nothing more to sleep, but I was buzzing from all the adrenalin and stress toxins screaming through my system.
“Stuff it!” I thought, “I’m going to do the school run on the bike.” BOOM. Instant energy boost. Wait. What? Physically unwell, lacking energy, feeling miserable, so I spent energy. And I got back more than I spent. Intuitively that feels a little like handing over $20 and getting $50 change. It doesn’t happen. It must have been a mistake. It certainly doesn’t happen twice!
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re breaking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
Why can’t we give love
Give love give love give love give love
Give love give love give love
Love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
But it turns out that the human mind is a peculiar beast. So is the human body, come to that. Sometimes you need to take it out of itself and distract it in order to break the cycle of stress and fatigue. If you are weak and have no energy, you need to build your muscles by working out at a sustainable level. And if you are stressed and have no energy, you need to build your coping muscles, by doing things that make you feel good.
In some ways it’s like providing your body and mind with a blueprint for happiness. You get stuck in a cycle of trauma and misery, so you tell your body: “Feel that? Good, isn’t it? That’s what feeling happy is like. Want some more?”
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Queen – Under Pressure
So this week I’ve done a whole lot more cycling. I took time out to go to choir practice. I organised coffee with a friend today when I really should have been getting stuff done. And it was all 100% worth it. I am calmer and more in control. I can laugh at the annoying things my kids do, instead of exploding. I can move past the stress and get on with my life, even though the cause hasn’t disappeared.
It’s really easy, when things get challenging, to say “I can’t make time to look after myself. I have to look after everyone else.” It may sound terribly altruistic and brave, but in reality it’s a road to nowhere. If your own heart and soul aren’t intact, how can you support anyone else? You wind up making mistakes, and causing more suffering to the people around you, than if you’d taken that hour to sit by the pond, ride your bike, or go to choir practice.
It turns out that you have to spend energy to make energy. It’s not only sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.