Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Slow Down-Take A Deep Breath and Handle That S***

After an extremely hot day at the beach (thank you So Cal weather), my friends and I stopped at Tender Greens for iced tea (thank you So Cal restaurants). We approached the register and quickly noticed the anxiety ridden cashier at the helm of the shop. He was frantically moving from register to register mumbling under his breath. He politely smiled up at the customers but his smile quickly dropped when he looked down and the computer to complete his task. Sweat beaded from his temples which, as a customer of this restaurant was a little unsettling to see.

It was obvious he was having trouble with one of his computers. But it was only obvious because of the fear stricken look on his face. He continued to bustle around frantically until a coworker came out. He jabbed his finger towards the computer and announced to her, “I don’t know why it’s not working,” and went back to the working computer and other customers.

I watched as the second employee calmly assessed the computer, changed the receipt roll, then said “Ok, its working.” Without skipping a beat, she smiled and took care of the next customer.

Same problem-two different reactions

I just couldn't help but notice the two very different reactions to the same problem. I thought about how when faced with a problem, we have a choice of these two same reactions. We can come out kicking and screaming and frantically trying to solve the problem or we can calmly assess the situation and solve it without all the stress.

Lately I’ve been trying to be more like the second employee-emphasis on ‘trying’. I try to calmly address my issues and figure out how to fix them. The way I see it, there is no point in getting all worked up over any issue. Getting worked up is counterproductive and doesn’t help us address the issues at all. And I’ll make a note here it’s a lot easier to react this way outside of the classroom when you don’t have 26 3rd graders fidgeting and fighting from their seats- but I digress. 

Accurately exaggerated depiction of what it feels like to teach 3rd grade

The idea that we should be addressing stressful situations calmly is not just my opinion, there’s science behind all of this. Science helps me and all the geeks out there like me who need a little more than “zen vibes” to believe something. And thanks to Darren Main, author of Yoga and The Path of the Urban Mystic, I now know a thing or two about the science behind it all.

We all have this wonderful thing in our body called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This controls our body's automatic functions, hence the name. It controls heart rate, digestion, breathing, etc. It’s divided into two subdivisions-the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Sympathetic is that “fight or flight” you often hear about. This is the one your body is supposed to use in dangerous situations. Think of how useful this was in caveman days with real danger.

Parasympathetic is the “rest and digest” system. This is for non-emergencies and everyday life. Basically how the body is supposed to function regularly. I like to think of this as the “imagine how your body feels sitting in a lounge chair by the pool” system. 
Unibrows were essential during caveman times 

So what does this have to do with reacting to problems? According to Darren Main, it’s all about the breath.
Our breath is linked to our ANS. Think about it, when you are scared what is your breath like? It’s short, shallow, quick. When you are relaxed what is it like? It’s long and full. Yogis especially know this. Our breath is linked to our practice and when we find long and full breaths, we are able to reach our edge and flow deeper into a posture. When we lose our breath, we often fall out of the posture or flow.

In life, the same concept applies when we get to a tough situation. If we begin to breathe rapidly we activate our sympathetic nervous system-our fight or flight starts to turn on and our bodies are put into a state of stress. All of a sudden, your heart rate is increasing, your breathing is fast and you're sweating. And for what? A stupid computer?
The fight or flight system is there for real danger. It’s a system our body is supposed to use when we are actually at risk of something. 
Luckily for us in this modern world, we have very little to actually be at risk of.
Unluckily for us, we are all really guilty of letting stress get to us.

If we continue running our bodies like this, we can really hurt ourselves. Many people work in high stress jobs that keep their bodies at elevated stress levels that the body does not need to be in. Rather, if we spend a majority of our time in rest and digest we will begin to notice our body finding its happy rhythm. Our organs, like the heart, will be relaxed. Our bodies will function efficiently and we’ll take slower more calculated breaths leading to an all around healthier life.

So what do we do? Walk around like blissed out zombies breathing deeply whenever we face a problem?

Instead, we should try to take a step back and calmly assess the problems and never forget to take those long deep breaths. Stress will not help us solve anything. Fight or flight is to be saved for real danger and unless you work at a bank that’s constantly being held up by masked bandits, you probably don’t have any “real” danger at work. Unless of course you are a cop, firefighter, or military personnel- but that's psychology out of my league.

To live longer, happier, healthier lives we need to keep in mind the basics that will keep us sane.
We need to keep ourselves at rest and digest.
We need to keep ourselves calm.

Think about the two workers. Do you want to be the calm problem solver or the guy running around like a chicken with his head cut off?

Just remember to slow down-take a deep breath and handle that shit. 

*All artwork was done by my extremely talented sister. You can check out her other work and contact her for commissioned work on Facebook.

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