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Stress Management in the Mountains

Stress Management in the Mountains

by: Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

One of the hats that I wear in my life is that of a Scoutmaster. I love being with these young men and helping them learn leadership and character. I love hanging out with them and being a part of their world.

stress management

We recently participated in a trek at Philmont Scout Reservation near Cimarron, NM,  a 10-day backpacking journey of 76 miles. Hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, among such sights as are simply not available in Missouri, one might think that stress would melt away and relaxation would be almost a foregone conclusion, especially for one who loves the outdoors.

I found this rest was harder to come by than I thought.  One thing I noted often was our tendency to focus on getting to the next Destination.   We hiked an average of 7 miles a day with 40 pound packs on.  Our stops provided opportunities to participate in program activities like mountain biking, railroading, cowboy action shooting, and tomahawk throwing (to name just a few).   

It is easy when hiking in a group to get caught up in “getting there” in order to have the time to do the activity offered. The tendency is to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other in order to “get there”.  Consequently you will see little more than the rocks, the heels and backpack of the person in front of you.  

I had to remind myself (and the boys) often to slow down, get a little space between ourselves and the next guy, and LOOK AROUND.  “We’re in the MOUNTAINS!  Look at that valley!  Let the massive magnitude of this place sink in, let the sheer sense of scale take hold for just a moment.  Look at this little river snaking through this rich green valley! Listen to the water and the birds! Literally SMELL THE FLOWERS!”

stress managementWhen I did so, we would take a moment, stop or slow down and “ooh and aaah” appreciatively, snap a few photos, and then put our heads down and get back to the “business” of hiking.

When I returned to “civilization”, I noticed a profound similarity between this experience of hiking and to that of driving.  We can become focused on “getting there” rather than on the journey.  We fixate on getting past “this slow idiot” in order to be behind then next slow idiot. We race and race to “get there” rather than allowing ourselves to take our time and to enjoy the journey.  

I think the focus on Destination over Journey is a challenge that faces many of us when it comes to stress and our often futile attempts to manage it.  We need a regular reminder that most of our stress is often self-applied and actually unnecessary.  In the midst of our tasks, if we can slow down and look around, shift our focus from “getting there” or “getting it done” to finding delight in the doing and in the journey, we just might find our lives more livable and enjoyable.  –JEHstress management

Busy, Busy, Busy

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC


The ‘Busy’ Trap


Ringing with truth and clarity, when I came across this article in the New York Times about busyness I knew I wanted to share author Tim Kreider’s ideas here with you. I agreed, resonated, and felt convicted by his look at how busyness is a trap we have created and accepted in our mainstream culture, that we then in turn create and accept in our lives. While I didn’t necessarily nod along to every point he made in the article, his overall thesis that we perpetuate busy lives to create importance to our days and therefore significance to our lives, is one I see and feel all around me as well as in me.


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.


Rather than view idleness as the enemy, or evidence of emptiness, he posits idleness as an important factor to fullness in life. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” 


I often discover when sitting with people in the counseling room, allowing ourselves  space is a battle. Space time-wise, physically, and even mentally. The battle can be external in the pressures and requirements of the day, but often it is more internal. Allowing for some quiet inside ourselves, some space between the stimulus and the response, and some stillness to sort through, process, reflect upon that which is bouncing around inside of us. 

Here is a link to the article. I recommend taking a break from your busyness to read it 

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?smid=pl-share



Soul P.M.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation.  We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity.  It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.

When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone.  All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important.  I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients.  It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles.  When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.

Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it?  Did I lose it?”  Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.

Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations?  We needed to know!!  We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.

A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.”  Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important.  In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance.  It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking.  It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.

Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls.  We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest.  This is a mistake.  We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.

How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)?  How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul?  Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you.  Get out of your routine for a while.  You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented.  When you get to that point, don’t stop.  Take another day.

Or two.  It will keep.

Let it go.  Go on.

PM yourself.

–JH