Near the end of every karate class, we take time for deep stretching of muscles that have been given a thorough workout. The stretching comes with a certain amount of discomfort, a certain level of pain, when we are pushing our flexibility.
During the stretching, our instructor often reminds us to “make happy your muscles, make happy your body!” And it does make our muscles happy. They feel more relaxed and somewhat recovered from the workout. Personally, my mind feels more relaxed and more in control of my environment.
There is some pain and discomfort in the present while we are stretching but the rewards come in the future when we can maintain our flexibility and our stamina. Being on the front-wave of boomers, that is very important for me!
Bob Anderson, one of the world’s most popular stretching authorities, says in his book, “Stretching:” “Avoid creeping rigor mortis. As we age, our joints begin to stiffen, muscles tighten and lose their elasticity, range of motion decreases, and our posture begins to suffer.”
Building on his phrase, I have been using the term “creeping stress” in our lives. Stress often builds up in our system so slowly that we just keep adjusting the load and keep on keepin’ on. Then we learn to tolerate the next level of stress and carry that load for a while. And .. . . we adjust the load again and keep on keepin’ on. And the cycle repeats until something breaks (physically or mentally). I can raise my hand at this point!
We have control over that cycle. We have the ability to ‘make happy our mind.” Stress occurs with every adverse reactive response we make to a stimulus. And where do we decide what our response will be?
Right there in the gap between the stimulus and response. That’s where all decisions are made. Those decisions lead directly to our actions and behaviours, the part of us that those around us experiences.
Remember – your emotional mind, faster and stronger than your rational mind, is always first on the scene to any stimulus. It is the rational mind that arrives a half-second later. Increasing the gap between stimulus and response gives both minds time to figure out what’s going on and what the most appropriate response would be.
How do you stop and even reverse the impact of creeping stress? How do you lengthen the gap? By stretching your mind, expanding your understanding of yourself and the world around you, and by increasing your awareness of how you operate in the gap and what triggers your stress.
Stretching your mind and increasing your understanding and awareness lengthens the gap, turns it into more of a deliberate pause that allows you to choose the most appropriate response.
How can you make stress your ally in the gap?
Be as aware of the gap and the control you have over it as possible. That control is yours and yours alone.
Focus on guiding your emotions to take a positive approach first when responding.
Practice 1 & 2 until it becomes a habit, your desired way to respond.
Can you ‘make happy your mind’ and stop creeping stress? Absolutely – you only have to choose when to start!