06 November 2008

The Tyranny of Mood

I think in the past I haven't quite been aware of the degree to which biology is in charge of my life. These days it sometimes seems almost as if I am a puppet being moved by the strings of biology. A recent example: I drank two beers on the evening of November 4. Even though I hardly ever drink, I did not feel especially tipsy. The morning of November 5, I was depressed. There wasn't a reason on earth to be depressed on November 5, 2008, in fact it qualified as one of the least depressing days in history. But there it was. Things seemed sad.

Further, lately I experience an enormous amount of stress unless I exercise every day. When I say "stress" you may think you know what I mean, but allow me to clarify further. I'm talking about something almost along the lines of panic, and if I really tune into it I realize it isn't really about anything. It's just in my body. I think it is at least in part due to fluctuating levels of estrogen. On the positive side, all this means I have much more energy, and that I am really motivated to get exercise. I meditate almost every day and sometimes much more than that, and of course this helps a great deal as well. Lately I find that more than that is required. For balance, stillness needs movement.

It's amazing how my mood, caused by something drunk or eaten, by activity my body did or did not do, makes the world change tone, and yet it's pretty much the same world. This is so important to be aware of. To paraphrase Anais Nin - I have read nothing of hers by the way, but think she said something like that we see the world how we are - I am trying to see the world as I am. Rather, to know in each moment that I am seeing the world as I am.

If I don't move my body much, which happens during my daily bonding sessions with my laptop, and eat a lot, the prospect of moving around much appears to be a big chore. A good thing to do, the right thing to do, but not something I actually want to do. Rather, it becomes something that Hercules should be doing. But once the movement barrier is broken, once my body's energy is available, exercising is very natural and feels good. Now, I can't imagine doing without it.

On a less personal note, here are some of the main factors that studies have identified as reducing stress:

* Meditation/mindfulness practice
* Exercise
* Social support
* Positive but realistic mental perspective
* Enjoying outlets for frustration (hobbies, expression of feelings)
* Rejuvenating/relaxing regularly.

Wonderful Stanford primate/stress scientist Robert Sapolsky is a proponent of exercise as a stress reducer. Interestingly, he has cited studies indicating that exercise only reduces stress if you enjoy it. This is probably true of the other stress reducers as well. So get some spaciousness in your life, relax, and enjoy! Take care of your body! Unfortunately it sounds like a commercial, but for some of us, this is an important thing to remember.

Stress Reduction at Work Mindfulness Courses. This is a business I co-own with my friend Bill Scheinman.

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky (on googlebooks)

The evocative image at the top of this posting is from periphery.co.uk.

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