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Stress Management in the Mountains

Stress Management in the Mountains

by: Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

One of the hats that I wear in my life is that of a Scoutmaster. I love being with these young men and helping them learn leadership and character. I love hanging out with them and being a part of their world.

stress management

We recently participated in a trek at Philmont Scout Reservation near Cimarron, NM,  a 10-day backpacking journey of 76 miles. Hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, among such sights as are simply not available in Missouri, one might think that stress would melt away and relaxation would be almost a foregone conclusion, especially for one who loves the outdoors.

I found this rest was harder to come by than I thought.  One thing I noted often was our tendency to focus on getting to the next Destination.   We hiked an average of 7 miles a day with 40 pound packs on.  Our stops provided opportunities to participate in program activities like mountain biking, railroading, cowboy action shooting, and tomahawk throwing (to name just a few).   

It is easy when hiking in a group to get caught up in “getting there” in order to have the time to do the activity offered. The tendency is to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other in order to “get there”.  Consequently you will see little more than the rocks, the heels and backpack of the person in front of you.  

I had to remind myself (and the boys) often to slow down, get a little space between ourselves and the next guy, and LOOK AROUND.  “We’re in the MOUNTAINS!  Look at that valley!  Let the massive magnitude of this place sink in, let the sheer sense of scale take hold for just a moment.  Look at this little river snaking through this rich green valley! Listen to the water and the birds! Literally SMELL THE FLOWERS!”

stress managementWhen I did so, we would take a moment, stop or slow down and “ooh and aaah” appreciatively, snap a few photos, and then put our heads down and get back to the “business” of hiking.

When I returned to “civilization”, I noticed a profound similarity between this experience of hiking and to that of driving.  We can become focused on “getting there” rather than on the journey.  We fixate on getting past “this slow idiot” in order to be behind then next slow idiot. We race and race to “get there” rather than allowing ourselves to take our time and to enjoy the journey.  

I think the focus on Destination over Journey is a challenge that faces many of us when it comes to stress and our often futile attempts to manage it.  We need a regular reminder that most of our stress is often self-applied and actually unnecessary.  In the midst of our tasks, if we can slow down and look around, shift our focus from “getting there” or “getting it done” to finding delight in the doing and in the journey, we just might find our lives more livable and enjoyable.  –JEHstress management

Busy, Busy, Busy

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC


The ‘Busy’ Trap


Ringing with truth and clarity, when I came across this article in the New York Times about busyness I knew I wanted to share author Tim Kreider’s ideas here with you. I agreed, resonated, and felt convicted by his look at how busyness is a trap we have created and accepted in our mainstream culture, that we then in turn create and accept in our lives. While I didn’t necessarily nod along to every point he made in the article, his overall thesis that we perpetuate busy lives to create importance to our days and therefore significance to our lives, is one I see and feel all around me as well as in me.


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.


Rather than view idleness as the enemy, or evidence of emptiness, he posits idleness as an important factor to fullness in life. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” 


I often discover when sitting with people in the counseling room, allowing ourselves  space is a battle. Space time-wise, physically, and even mentally. The battle can be external in the pressures and requirements of the day, but often it is more internal. Allowing for some quiet inside ourselves, some space between the stimulus and the response, and some stillness to sort through, process, reflect upon that which is bouncing around inside of us. 

Here is a link to the article. I recommend taking a break from your busyness to read it 

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?smid=pl-share



Soul P.M.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation.  We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity.  It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.

When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone.  All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important.  I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients.  It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles.  When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.

Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it?  Did I lose it?”  Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.

Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations?  We needed to know!!  We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.

A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.”  Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important.  In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance.  It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking.  It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.

Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls.  We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest.  This is a mistake.  We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.

How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)?  How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul?  Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you.  Get out of your routine for a while.  You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented.  When you get to that point, don’t stop.  Take another day.

Or two.  It will keep.

Let it go.  Go on.

PM yourself.

–JH

Burn Notice and the 130 MPH Perspective

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My wife and I were watching a recent episode of Burn Notice (#502: “Bloodlines”, if you’re interested), where the character of Fiona tries to keep a philandering scientist out of trouble.

**While I am trying not to give too much away, there may be spoilers in the next sentence.**
The two of them ended up in a fast car on the highway, with Fiona driving 130 mph with her eyes closed, while the panicking scientist shouted at her when she needed to turn.

I have, in my reckless youth, driven almost that fast, and I can tell you with all sincerity, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. When you’re driving 25 or 30 miles an hour, you can look around and enjoy the surroundings a bit. At 130 miles an hour, you must keep your eyes glued intently on the road in front of you, or you will die.  You don’t really even have time to check the next lane before you have to move into it because what is coming at you is coming hard and fast. (Did I mention it yet? Do NOT try this at home!)

I am realizing that in a lot of ways, the difficulties and challenges that arise in life are a lot like traveling at excessive speed on the highway.  Trouble is not an enjoyable thing.  It can be draining and often fearful to look at the road that life has you taking, and it seems like trouble loves to stomp on the gas.  The feeling and fear of losing control, spinning, and flipping end-over-end is *not* exhilarating when it comes in the form of a crashing relationship or the brick wall of a crushing diagnosis.

When our lives are relatively trouble-free, we can look around and enjoy the scenery.  We can get distracted by things that are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. How green (or brown) the lawn is, what critters are eating the veggies in the garden, that Tommy got a “C” in algebra, who said what and what did they mean by it, all become larger issues and demand more attention than they really deserve.

But trouble demands more of our resources in order to cope.  When the doctor says, “Cancer”, the lawn doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore.  The word “Divorce” tends to reduce the importance of how many tomatoes we are going to have this year.  We need more of our energy to pay attention to the things that matter.  Communication, study, emotional and mental effort are put toward dealing with the crisis, and the less important things fall by the wayside in a blur.  Trouble has a way of re-setting our priorities, and this can be a good thing.

Another effect of trouble is to force us to realize that, no matter what we have come to believe, we are not in control of our lives. Oh, we can choose our socks and our favorite potato chips and a few other things, but circumstances change regardless of our precautions.  Losing a job or a home or a loved one to disease is not something we generally have a say in.  Our scientist friend in the story above was not driving, he was along for the ride, and the ride was terrifying.  He could shout directions all he wanted, but he was utterly dependent on the skills of the driver.

The wonderful part is that for the believer in Jesus, losing control (or recognizing that control was not ours to begin with) can actually be *comforting*. We can find comfort when we learn that Trouble is not driving, God is.  Paul writes in Philippians that he has learned that the secret to contentment lies in dependence on Jesus:   “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)  


No matter what it feels like, God is not a reckless driver who closes his eyes and waits for us to shout directions. He is, and has been, in charge of our lives and direction from the beginning, and (to push the illustration to its breaking point) he is the best driver there is.

Nothing makes the grinding trouble of this life less terrifying for us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: most often, you are perfectly normal when you are afraid of the unknown future.  Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow precisely because he knew we would be worried about it.  Knowing that God is driving and that he knows what he is doing gives us a place to go in our fear, a place to be afraid and most importantly, a place to find comfort.

Lest this entire post come off sounding fluffy and trite, please know that dealing with crises in life is not simple, straightforward or easy.  There is no one “answer” or belief that will “fix” the problem or make the hurt and fear go away for good.  This is one piece of what can often be a complex puzzle.  When life accelerates and you feel it in the seat of your pants, find a friend or a counselor who can come along side you, who can help you make sense of your fear, and who can walk with you into the arms of Jesus.  The fear will come and go.  When it comes, keep on taking it to Jesus.  He knows what to do with it.