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Keeping calm, keeping focused

Posted Feb 28 2013 7:32am

I work with a handful of people who are constantly going-going-going. Their jobs are very involved and very demanding, and they also have a very close-knit team. They deal with a lot of different types of people on a daily basis, and they have a lot of agitation from the people they work with. One of the people who causes them agitation is me. I work with them on certain projects that are always time-sensitive and mission-critical, and which they are very much invested in.

I do like them, and I think they’ve got a great team. The one thing I don’t care for, is their need to be constantly ON, constantly up in arms about something, constantly stressed. Come to think of it, a lot of people I work with are like that — mainly because they have come up with some fixed idea in their minds about what should be done, and how it should be done, and they are practically welded to that fixed idea… and damn all evidence that it might not be as mission-critical as they believe it is.

Okay, so in fairness to everyone, their compensation is directly tied to what they deliver, when they deliver it, and how many victories they can declare in a set amount of time. Everybody wants to make a decent living, and everybody needs to pay their bills.

I’m just saying that the level of intensity and drama gets to be a little much, after a while, and despite their apparent belief that staying stressed and anxious and pumped, 60 hours a week, is the way to go, I know differently. At least, if you’re interested in having a long and healthy life. Stress and lack of sleep does terrible things to the body and the mind. The research is finally showing it, and people are finally paying attention. The thing of it is, our culture, our society (American, that is) has such an investment in high stress situations — work hard, play hard, with nothing in between — that to suggest something different might be in order is seen as, well, un-American. And we can’t have that.

You know, it’s kind of bizarre, actually… this fascination with stress. Then again, it isn’t. I know full well what it’s like to really feed on that sensation, to be constantly pushed forward — on-on-on, go-go-go — and never take your eye off the prize, no matter what’s going on around you. I know what it’s like to use stress as a potent pain-killer, to rely on it for my energy and my sense of purpose, to really soak it up and feel the power of a sustained, intense adrenaline rush. And I know why it’s so important to people who are continually rewarded — by themselves and their sense of self — for that kind of living.

Yeah, I know what that’s like, and I know what it’s like to crave that, to live for it, and to think that anyone who isn’t all about that is just plain lazy. Or stupid. Or unmotivated. Or whatever else you can think of that implies they’re not quite all there. And I know how hard it can be to disengage from that way of life, to either wean yourself off it, or go cold-turkey. I know how painful it can be, how frustrating, how alienating it can be.

But I also know what that kind of living does to you, internally and externally. I know what it can lead to, and I know what it can cost you. I know why people end up in mid-life crises, when they’ve been running at top speed for a couple of decades, then suddenly look around and realize — hey, this isn’t exactly what I was hoping for, when I started out down this road…

Most of all, I know that I would probably still be on that hamster wheel, grinding away day after day, if I hadn’t fallen, 8 years ago, and had everything start to disintegrate around me. I know that I would probably be looking around and wondering WTF?!  when all my best-laid plans failed to come through, despite my herculean efforts, and I know that I’d probably be queueing up with my peers to buy some shiny, sexy object to boost my self-image, if I hadn’t fallen and been rendered incapable of keeping up that pace.

Right now, my attention is focused on staying calm in the midst of the storm. Because things are crazy, right now, and everyone around me is melting down in the adjustments to the New Way Things Are. Some are handling things better than others. Most people are alternately bitching and complaining and venting, and putting their heads down and driving through. They’re finding relief in drinking or some pharmaceutical solution, or they’re prepping their resumes to move on. In any case, there aren’t that many people who are truly chilling through it all.

But that’s my goal — to chill, through it all. To treat it like a movie I’m watching and not get too invested in the day-to-day drama and whatnot. There’s no resisting these changes, no matter how hard they are for us… and in the meantime, life goes on, we go about our business, live our lives, and if we’re lucky, we get a few things done. And then try to explain why the other things didn’t get done.

Anyway, speaking of getting things done, it’s time for me to get ready for work and head into the fray again. I know how important it is to stay chilled, to stay steady, to not get too tweaked over everything, and I’m stepping up my breathing and relaxation activities to offset the drama. Truly, it is helping me… and keeping track of how I’m doing physically — if I’m tense, if I’m not really breathing much, if I’m getting agitated and worked up — is helping me to manage my physical state, which also helps me manage the changes around me.

Keeping my heart rate steady… keeping my stress response chilled… keeping my head about me, and working at being resilient… these are my intentions and my focus, these days.

And it’s helping. It sure beats the alternative.


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