Friday, June 11, 2010


Lately, I've been giving some thought to the way I manage stress. I'm pretty sure I'm not super-healthy about stress. I am generally open about things, and I wear my mind on my sleeve (and yes, in case you were wondering, sometimes I do go sleeveless). But at the same time, I obsess over problem situations, and I get aggravated when I find myself dwelling on things that my logical self knows aren't worth the effort! Chronic back problems abound, (wait, hold on, I have a body to worry about too?!?) I am confident that I need to find more constructive ways to recognize stress and figure it out. Now wouldn't that be the mature adult thing to do?

The first step is identifying the problem. What better diagnostic tool than one's blog? So, now I am going to delve into a bit of self-analysis. Whether or not y'all wish to come along for the ride is up to you.

When people go on vacation, or come home from work they say they "need to unwind." What exactly are they unwinding? What part of them is wound? With what, and how does it get that way? Thinking about this word in its affirmative form has allowed me to see a kind of vision of how I get stressed, how I become needy of unwinding.

Faced with stress, I am a definite wind-er. I do not really act out much, in fact, most of the time when I'm feeling stress, I wouldn't necessarily say "I'm stressed!!!!" especially when there's no tangible end in sight. I'm more likely to accept things and feel "normal" until some benevolent person in my life says, "This isn't normal."

But I am [stressed]. And the situation usually isn't "normal," whatever that is.

In reality, when I'm not "feeling" anything, I'm actually winding myself around and around an issue. Defense mechanism, anyone?! I've mentioned before in this blog that I feel like there's a maximum threshold for the comprehension of psychological and physical pain before the brain just shuts down. I'm relatively sure the same thing goes for stress.

I diffuse tangible stress by talking about it--and even my speech patterns are circular. A little thread of logical thought and analysis, starts to accumulate inside me, coiling around the amorphous form of my stress. This is a long process--like mummification? For instance, I might "vent" about something for five to ten to twenty minutes straight, feel like I've "gotten it out," but then half an hour later I've circled back to the same issue over again, and it feels just as urgent as the first twenty-five times I've talked about it. My mind becomes a satellite, bound by forces beyond its control into orbit. Endless, increasingly abstracted understanding of a topic.* And of course stress factors change--they expand and contract, their presence is not constant or controlled, and so sometimes a bit bursts out here or there, and the coil needs to be reworked. Eventually, once I've done it enough I am able to (kind of) move on. But the bugger's still there. Intact, but wound up.

Those of you who know me well know that I have a seriously one-track mind (see Fig. 1 below). What I don't realize at the time is, especially with endemic stresses, that this talking is slowly winding me up inside in such a way that I can start to tolerate that stress at a higher level. The way I've begun to think about it now is I am building a little cocoon around each stressor, and for the big ones, there's a lot of thread that goes into it.

Well when there is a clear end in sight, when the stressor breaks itself free from my life, I'm left with a lot of that winding, binding material, and it's awful. Because then, and only then, do I realize just how stressed I was the whole time. The meters, sometimes miles of winding thread gradually falls away, and, just as actively and painstakingly as before, I have to retract, unwind, and let the negative bits of whatever (or whomever) was stressing me out just seep slowly out of my pores, and away from me. Yet, I'm left with heaps of this stuff, this spent effort containing and managing in a knotted confused mess in my interior. (Illustrations to follow). Frankly, unwinding is way harder for me than winding, because it involves becoming a little vulnerable again, having to undo my fiction of control to return to some, slightly less stressful way of life.

Anyway, I hope those of you who bothered to read this aren't totally freaked out right now. I could actually be wrong, but I just felt a sproing in my needs to happen asap.

Fig. 1: Distraction Test

Take it yourself here.

* My artwork also functions in this more obsessive fashion; I will examine something and "get into it" until it's hardly recognizable, representational, but abstracted through the intensity of a single, patient unrelenting perspective.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Word. And I think you are absolutely right about unwillingness to unwind because of the way it leaves you vulnerable. But relaxation can also protect you because it allows the body and mind to be open enough to react instinctively to the stresses imposed upon it. Like on the roller coaster... if you try to physically brace yourself, you are more likely to strain your neck. Being relaxed may even allow you to instinctively use the external stresses to your surfing! Do birds look braced or stressed when they are flying?Remember, it is unwise to assume that what you do not do yourself does not happen.