Archive for the ‘Stress’ category

Fit Tip #23

August 8, 2009

Today my mind was racing

Faster than my feet could spin

While cycling from Virginia

To a park in Washington

Then I saw a labyrinth

A circle on the ground

(Unlike a maze where you get lost
A labyrinth: You’re found)

I laid my bike upon the grass

To give the walk a try

Sure enough my racing mind

Grew quieter. I sighed

The moral here

We need to move

A-racing we do go

Fitness comes from moving fast

But peace requires slow.

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Not-Overwhelming Disability

July 20, 2007

At my Aunt Mary’s recent memorial service, my mother, describing her sister’s “severe, paraplegic stroke,” said that “the stroke was overwhelming, but Mary was not overwhelmed by it.”

For 16 years, between the ages of 63 and 79, Mary could not use her left arm, could only limp on her left leg, and could not speak – at least, not the way most of us do.

She could say only five words: “Yes,” “No,” “And,” and “Oh Boy.”

But oh boy, did she communicate. With intonation, inflection, facial expression, and sheer willpower, Aunt Mary asked myriad questions and expressed surprise, doubt, alarm, fear, humor, amazement, pride, compassion, excitement, gratitude, and every other conceivable message.

It didn’t happen automatically, or fast. To communicate with Mary required incredible, almost saint-like patience on the part of her husband, Peter, and other family members and friends. Every conversation started with 20 questions, and expanded from there. “Are you asking about something in this room? Something that happened today? Are you hungry? Is the person you’re talking about in our family?”

In Mary’s case, the problem was not just aphasia – the inability to speak – but apraxia: the inability to indicate what one wants. So she couldn’t point to a water glass, or move her good hand the way one might if one wanted to mime drinking. She could only say her five words. And we could only guess.

Did we all get frustrated? Sure. We also gave up sometimes. When all the “yes no and oh boy’s” in the world failed to tell us what she wanted to say, we shrugged and smiled together. Mary was a good sport about that, laughing rather than crying after her sincere and focused efforts to tell us something, or ask us something, proved fruitless.

My friend Madelyn Jennings tells me that, incredibly, her brother-in-law, also a stroke survivor, has the exact same vocabulary as my aunt did. Maybe those are the core essential communications: that’s all any of us really need:

1) Yes: affirmation

2) No: Negation

3) And: Let’s continue the conversation, and

4) “Oh Boy”: The whole range of emotion.

Many people become depressed in response to such a stroke; Mary did not. Although “the stroke was overwhelming, Mary was not overwhelmed by it.”

And therein lies Mary’s legacy. She amazed us all with her positive spirit in the face of devastating loss.

All of us face the prospect of losses, changes, and disabilities, in ourselves and our loved ones, over time.

May we all rise to the occasion, as Mary did, with humor, persistence, and grace.

Yes. Yes. Oh boy.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
MNelson@aahperd.org

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You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down

June 3, 2007

Upon entering Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, drivers eager to get to the ocean, get to their condos or hotels, and get out of their hot cars encounter this sign: “You’re at the Beach. Relax and Slow Down.”

It’s a small sign, sky blue with dolphins or clouds or something peaceful painted on it — not a screaming billboard. A quiet sign, with a quiet message.

I love that sign.

I love vacationing in Rehoboth.

I love relaxing and slowing down, and I have noticed that we don’t really need to reserve that behavior for the beach.

We could, if we choose to, create our own signs:

You’re alive. Relax and slow down.

You’re racing through life, and missing many of the good parts: Relax and slow down.

Your kids and parents need your attention: Relax and slow down.

Your body needs your attention: Relax and slow down.

It’s fun; try it: Relax and slow down.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
MNelson@aahperd.org

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Stress Positions: Are You Torturing Yourself and Calling It “Life”?

June 3, 2007

In an article called “Bodies Under Stress” and other writings, author Mark Danner delineates the euphemisms the United States government uses to describe torture.

“Stress positions”: people hung by their wrists, men standing naked with women’s underpants wrapped around their faces.

“Use of dogs to induce stress”: Trained attack dogs biting and threatening to bite prisoners.

“Waterboarding”: the practice of holding someone’s head underwater for long periods of time – then repeating the practice.

“Sleep adjustment”: Forcing people to stand on a box for hours, believing they’ll be electrocuted if they fall off the box.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”: a compendium of abuses that any rational person (especially on the receiving end) would describe as torture.

Danner is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror”and “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.”

What this brings to mind for me (besides a fervent desire for a “regime change” in the United States government) is this: Into what “stress positions” do you choose to contort your own body?

What do you call it when you starve yourself, stuff yourself with unhealthy foods, “beat yourself up” with negative thoughts, or remain sitting for hours on end, depriving yourself of the oxygen, blood flow, and muscular activity you know your body needs?

Do you justify these self-torture techniques as “necessary”?

Am I comparing military torture with personal bad habits?

You bet.

You don’t have to be a political prisoner to put yourself on a medieval sort of “rack”: allowing over-commitment to pull you in all directions at once until your joints ache, your head hurts, and you can’t think straight.

The only comforting thought, when reading about torture, is, “At least it’s not me.”

What I’m suggesting is this: Maybe it is you. Maybe you are imposing your own “stress positions,” your own “sleep adjustment,” your own “waterboarding.”

Maybe you’re drowning in work or worry. Maybe you’re placing extreme stress on your body through prolonged inactivity and neglect – then failing to face the reality of the situation.

I hope not. But as a lifelong athlete, I know that I succumb to self-destructive behaviors myself sometimes: sit too long, for instance, when absorbed in the task at hand. Place my shoulders or back in “stress positions,” ignoring the pain while pursuring other pleasures, such as golf. Drink “grande Chai soy latte,” even though I know it will result in “sleep adjustment” that night as I needlessly fret about deadlines and commitments.

Most of us have the privilege of never being physically tortured by others.

Let’s not do it to ourselves.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation
MNelson@aahperd.org

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