This morning a movie line jumped into my head. It’s from “The Four Seasons” with Carol Burnett and Alan Alda. Yeah, yeah, don’t judge me, weird stuff jumps into your head all the time too, and in the scheme of weird stuff that jumps into my head, this one’s pretty minor. “The Four Seasons” is your typical 80’s road movie about three couples who vacation together. At one point Alda and Burnett are having a marital dispute and she says; “Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?”
Don’t worry if you didn’t see the movie, that’s the sole highlight. Also, I have absolutely no idea why my brain chose to file that one away for 39 years to be recalled on an September day, during a pandemic, racial unrest and economic devastation, and temperature is so hot you can fry an egg on your forehead. I would have preferred to retain something more profound in its place, like a page from the Bagavadgita or anything Stephen Hawking ever said. But no, it’s a quote from a movie starring Carol Burnett, I probably saw stoned, because the girl I was dating wanted to and she was too scared to see “Apocalypse Now.” Which, incidentally, I saw by myself and specifically remember I was stoned. I remember, because right around the time the tiger jumps out of the jungle, into the camera, full screen, I told myself that a joint beforehand may have been a profound mis-calculation. It turned out that it was.
But, back to Carol Burnett. The quote sarcastically acknowledges a fun time is not being had, but one could very well start again soon. Which brings me to an article I read this morning that really resonated with me, about ‘Surge Capacity.’
Surge Capacity is our ability to cope with emergencies and dire situations in the short term. Think someone having a heart attack near you, being in a car accident, even being evacuated for fire or storm. Surge Capacity helps you perform optimally during these events and reduces the possibility of panic by limiting your focus to the danger at hand. However, it is not meant to be used outside of temporary circumstances. You’ve probably already guessed the problem; for the last six months we have all been living in a state that is constantly triggering our Surge Capacity response. To make matters worse, there is no end in sight which Surge Capacity is not optimized for. Basically, it’s OK to have outside stressors that human physiology equates with survival. But, if the stress that your body equates with danger goes on too long, you start feeling worn down, your surge capacity depletes, and you feel both vulnerable and unfocused in general.
If you can get past the next level of depression that last paragraph incited in you, we can start to look at what strategies can be used to avoid Surge Capacity triggers.
1.) Turn Off the News: Unless there is a natural disaster near you or OJ is making a run for it in the Bronco again, do not have CNN or Fox News or MSNBC running for hours on TV. They are there to freak you out, they’re good at it, and they aren’t saying much that is affecting you in this moment. Turn it off. I scan the NY Times and the Boston Globe online in the morning and that’s it for the day. Since I live in LA, the only problems that need my immediate attention are likely to be earthquakes, brush fires and traffic. I have apps on my phone that notify me if there’s a local event of those varieties that I need to pay attention to.
2.) Sleep Hygiene: I know, I have trouble with that term too, but it’s a thing that’s real. What is good about limited social interaction is that you really can turn in at the same time each night, and get up at the same time every morning. If you have trouble sleeping in general as I do, try Melatonin Gummies. I take 10mg before bed and it works pretty well for me, and keeps me off the hard stuff. CVS has it in the vitamin section. Disclaimer: My wife tried it and after a few days it made her depressed. That can be a side effect, so keep an eye on it.
3.) Take Walks: Everyone from Einstein to Marcus Aurelius took long walks. It clears the mind, relaxes you, gets the blood pumping a bit, and being in nature, even just a lap around the neighborhood is very good for well-being. I do this, but not enough. I’m trying to improve.
4.) Sit Quietly for 20 Minutes: Call it meditation or prayer or breath control or anything you want. Just try it. There’s 1000 ways to do this that will fit in with your life philosophy. At the very least, set a timer, sit in a chair in a quiet place, close your eyes and count your breaths in and out to ten and back to one. Repeat until the timer goes off. Start with 5 minutes and work your way up from there. Don’t worry if thoughts come and go, just keep going back to the count. If you get distracted enough to forget what number you’re on, just start again at one. If I can do it, anyone can. When we’re stressed our breathing gets shallow. The increased oxygen alone of deep breaths will help calm your nerves.
There are many other ways that experts cite as ways to relax and keep focus. Journaling, gratitude rituals, hobbies, etc, etc, but I’ve never had much long term luck with anything but the big four I’ve listed above. They’re the most simple and the most actionable and even though we’re not at full capacity yet, I’m pretty damn busy, so no time for messing about. “Is this the fun part? Are we having fun yet?”
Be well, be safe.