Category Archives: stress

The flesh is weak … and the spirit ain’t helping much

Sunday morning III’m trying to get (a little more) organized. But it’s not working out very well.

I use a program with my mail reader that lets me tag individual messages. I tag email messages with Projects and Keywords and Due Dates and Alerts. I can sort messages into folders so I know what’s due today, tomorrow, and next week. Problem is, it doesn’t help much. I’ve got a bunch of past due actions for emails and I rarely look at what’s coming up because I’m too busy trying (and usually failing) to get done what’s due today.

I use a task manager app which syncs my laptop, desktop, and phone. I can see what I have to do today while sitting on the toilet. Problem is, it doesn’t help much. I add tasks and due dates but I ignore some of them.

Phone calls are the worst. I hate phone calls. Most of the time I’ll let my phone go to voice mail so I don’t have to talk to anyone. In fact, I owe a return call to a friend from Friday early afternoon and it’s early Sunday morning. And I know what it’s about and it’s fairly urgent! I just don’t want to talk.

I know I should eat better and less. For lunch yesterday I had left over ribs and backed potato. I took 2 ribs and about 1/3 of a freakin’ humongous potato. Then I go back for seconds. I tell my daughter I’m getting just one more rib but I come back with 2 more ribs and another 1/3 of the freakin’ humongous potato. Then I am disgusted with myself when I look in the mirror and watch my belt shrinking past the first hole.

I know I should get to the gym. I even bought some knew clothes and promised myself I’d start going when they arrived. I’ve been to the gym once in the last week. It’s so much work to get dressed and get to the gym and then I need to take a shower after which is even more work. It would be so much easier if I had an exercise machine in the house. Oh, wait. I do!

I tell myself I’m just going to watch one episode of “The Unit” on TV. But I end up watching two, then three, then four. All the while I’m watching the clock and realizing that the day is slipping by and all I’ve done is eat 4 ribs and 2/3 of a freakin’ humongous potato.

I know I shouldn’t drink so much. I know that I feel better when I don’t drink. But I’m about to go refill my glass with bourbon.

There’s a changed perception of time with depression which I’ve talked about and that has something to do with this. And there’s a physical component to my lack of motivation. But I can’t wait for things to get better. I can’t wait for my depression to go away. I need coping strategies now! I don’t feel that they are sufficient, but here’s what I’m doing to cope:

  1. I’m telling people that I need to conserve my energy so I’m not taking on new responsibilities.
  2. I’m telling people to remind me of things when I’m not getting them done. I really don’t mind. And I really don’t mind but few people are doing this.
  3. I’m trying to be gentle with myself and not critical or nasty when I don’t do things. Yes, the laundry has piled up again and the kitchen needs cleaning and I forgot to water the plants. But that’s ok. I’ll get to all these tasks (hopefully before the plants die and we get fruit flies and I run out of clean t-shirts).
  4. I’m still keeping to-do lists. Even though it doesn’t seem to help much, I still tag my email messages and add items to my task manager and keep the calendar items for what gets cleaned when (although it is hidden). I’m hoping that after enough time, these things will begin to help and become habits.
  5. I’m taking time to play with my daughter even when I “should” be working because I’ve put things off all week and need to get things done by Monday.
  6. I’m trying to get out of the house more in order to work. There are far fewer distractions and TVs out there. But there are few comfortable seats and most places cost money (even a few dollars for a coffee every day adds up).

I really hope I get better at this. And soon! I don’t see myself recovering from depression and getting back to a “normal” life. So, it would help if my coping skills improved a bit.

How Stress Affects the Body – Infographic

Growing old

CryingDid two things yesterday I haven’t done in a long time.

  1. I listened to Incomudro: Hymn to the Atman by Kansas
  2. I had a good, hard, loud cry.

This song is amazing—one of the best songs ever written. It has a great percussion solo (which, I think, rivals those by Neal Peart although it’s not as long as some of Peart’s) and the lyrics are incredible. This is how I listen to this song:

  1. I sit in a chair facing the speakers
  2. Turn the volume up to +10
  3. Put a piece of masking tape over the “0” and write a “1” on it so the volume goes “up to eleven”
  4. Sit back and feel like I’m in that old Maxell commercial (yes, I’m really old enough to remember it)

Maxell Tapes

This is a powerful song with a powerful message. It describes a feeling of peace and wholeness that I very much lack these days and so it’s easy to let myself cry listening to it. And today was a very good cry. Very cathartic. A screaming, agonizing, visceral cry.

Perhaps the strong effect the song had on me today was due to the other music I listened to. My goal was to do some cleaning and I decided to go against my usual modus operandi and listen to upbeat music. It worked quite well for a while. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are quite good bands to clean to. (Hmmm, I wonder if my father complex is showing just a bit?) But then I tried some bands that didn’t work so well because they reminded me of days gone by when my wife and I were very happy. (Note to self: I need to learn how to compartmentalize my feelings more effectively.) Then I spotted “Kansas” while flipping through my playlists and went for it.

Part of the “attraction” was the whole motif of “growing old.” Earlier today, I got upset at an inanimate object and kicked it wearing flip-flops so my right big toe hurts like the dickens and I now have a severe limp. My right arm aches with tendonitis. My eyes are getting worse. And so on. Combined with the cumulative effects of chronic stress, including muscle weakness and depression, I’m feeling quite ancient these days. I sometimes lament my aging body. My daughter (just turned 7) and I joke about it a lot—”My hip! My hip!” we whine as we limp around. (Although it is very nice to let the young’ins do the heavy lifting.)

But this is all part of growing old. And growing old is not just something to mourn. It’s also a celebration! For one, I’m getting closer to the end of my pain and suffering. For another, I’m really very glad that I don’t act quite as stupid as I did when I was younger.

It seems that as I age, the polar opposites become clearer and more pronounced. Aging gracefully is definitely a crash course in learning equanimity (or, at least, having equanimity shoved down your throat). Unless, of course, you want to fight it tooth and nail.

Anyway, it was really good to “let it all out” as they say. I will probably be doing that again, soon. In the meantime, I’m going to work on “holding the tension of the opposites” and building my equanimity.

Wish me luck!


Chronic stress and its effects on the body

chronic stressChronic stress. It’s unavoidable these days. Traffic jams. Financial uncertainty. Go-go-go work mentality. Even kids are stressed — swim team, soccer practice, music practice, chess club, karate. It’s go-go-go even for them. And when we’re not in stressful situations, we’re coach potatoes watching TV or surfing the internet or eating fast food.

Stress has well-understood effects on the body. Animals can experience stress—nothing shouts stress like a hungry lion chasing you in order to eat you. And it is exactly this stress which gives the fleeing zebra a fighting chance. Short term stress actually improves performance. Take the zebra, for example. In order to survive, the zebra needs energy in its muscles. Fast! So, its heart rate and blood pressure increase. Blood gets rerouted from the stomach so digestion stops as does cell repair, ovulation, the immune system, and growth. And this is all fine and good for the zebra who must run for a few minutes and then can stop and rest and get its body back to normal.

But chronic stress means that our bodies are stressed much more often and for longer periods of time. So think about the physiological effects mentioned above occurring very often. If your body is constantly mobilizing energy (even when no lion is chasing you) then it can’t store energy and your muscles get weak and your risk for diabetes increases. If your blood pressure increases everyday driving home from work through rush-hour traffic, you get heart disease and atherosclerosis. If you eat under stress—on the run or at your desk while working—your digestion is interrupted and you are more at risk for colitis or an ulcer. Chronic stress reduces the effectiveness of cell repair and your immune system making you more vulnerable for infectious diseases.

Again, for a short time, stress is beneficial. I remember in high school, when I had an essay test, I would sit there and do nothing for about 20 minutes. Then I’d start working. I found that I worked better under a little bit of stress due to the time pressure. Back then, I didn’t know why, but the reason I performed better was that, under short-term stress, the hippocampus (which is involved with memory) works better. Also, the brain releases more dopamine and more oxygen and glucose are delivered to the brain. In short, your entire brain works better and it feels good!

But long-term stress has the opposite effect. Less glucose gets to the brain. Neurons in the hippocampus don’t function as well and can’t communicate with each other. Neurogenesis (the process of making of new neurons) occurs in the hippocampus and this process slows down. With enough stress, neurons in the hippocampus and the frontal cortex (the part of the brain involved with making decisions and controlling our emotions) will actually die. Less dopamine is released which which may be linked with depression. To make matters worse, the amygdala (the part of the brain involved with fear and anxiety)  actually gets bigger and so our fear response gets heightened.

This stuff is scary! It also explains a lot of what is going on with me. Stress reduction is critical and necessary for so many of us but how do we do this? One answer is meditation. See this post for a short list of some of the benefits of meditation that counteract the effects of chronic stress. I’ll be writing more on meditation in the next few posts so stay tuned.

And if you want to get started with or back into meditation, check out the Psychology Of Me Store for some meditation supplies.