The Mental Balance. Staying sane in these modern times.
By: Alaskan Outlaw - December 2nd, 2020
Here in the Alaskan winter, with the longer nights and colder temperatures, the population is more prone to depression than any other time throughout the year. Darkness naturally increases the level of anxiety in many, and the colder temperatures force most people inside, where there is a perceived lack of freedom. These two major factors are the driving force behind this phenomenon we call the “winter blues”. This can probably be said for any location throughout the world far from the equator. This year, a worldwide pandemic has added an even greater burden to an already challenging time of the year, especially given the fact that it has now lasted for almost a year with many repeated community lockdowns. As many throughout the country wrestle with unemployment, possible homelessness, and the repeated lockdowns, the level is consistently being pressed higher and higher into unprecedented levels of societal stress. In addition, the actual infection and/passing of associates and family can pack an insane psychological punch on our already overtaxed mental state.
Greetings, and welcome friends, family, neighbors, fellow veterans, Alaskans, and Americans wherever you are. Welcome to the Alaskan Outlaw podcast, I am the Alaskan Outlaw, and I will be your host, for what I hope will be an informative discussion about maintaining our mental health, particularly given the current mental health challenges. We all know the effects that have been placed upon all of us as the pandemic continues to lock us all down, and attempt to threaten our freedom and our lives. One of the greatest mental boosts we can give ourselves is the self-confidence of being a survivor. My ultimate goal is to ensure that all of you are successful in surviving catastrophes, whether they be natural, or human-induced. To be successful in survival, 90% of survival is a mental game, therefore we have to be mentally ready for whatever happens, and not be mired down in depression.
As you may remember from the show on October 21 of 2020, called “Survival Mindset” where we talked about getting the mind right for successful survival. One of the points I made was talking about providing activities for kids to do during and after a local disaster, that was within their level of understanding. I explained that these visible actions would allow the kids to build a level of self-confidence. Well, this same practice applies to adults too. During my tour with the US Marines, we had an unwritten code that we lived, or died, around. That was “adapt and overcome” and it meant that we (Marines) had to be able to think independently and adjust our plans of attack to whatever dynamic element tried to intercept our forward momentum. I hope that I can help you come to embrace this mental exercise for your own needs.
Another fond memory is US Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven, who, during a commencement speech at Texas at Austin University in 2014 spoke of ten things he learned in SEAL training that he has kept. The number one thing was "making your bed every morning". That it became a task completed successfully, it gave you a boost to tackle bigger things throughout your day. These small tasks completed could culminate into multiple successes, thereby helping build your self-confidence. Again, our quest is to stack as much in the win column as we can.
The remaining nine (9) suggestions that the Admiral made in that speech were:
2. Find someone to help you paddle.
3. Measure someone by the size of their heart, and not by the size of their flippers.
4. Get over being a “sugar cookie” and continue to move forward.
5. Don’t be afraid of the circuses.
6. Slide down the obstacles headfirst.
7. Don’t back down from the sharks.
8. You need to be your very best during the darkest moments.
9. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
10. Don’t EVER ring the bell.
Honestly, I live by these tips to success. When I begin to feel like I’m being overwhelmed, I remember that I have to be at my best during the darkest of times. It has become a psyche for me, and I encourage you to watch his commencement speech on youtube.
With all the chaos of an international pandemic, civil unrest, political turmoil, as well as natural disasters happening everywhere, it may have caused even the most staunch beacons of mental fortitude to bend a knee under the pressure. Having the ability to release the pent up stressors is going to become more and more critical, as time marches on for humans on earth. To this end, many recommend yoga and breathing exercises, and while there is validity in those suggestions, I would like to offer a few additional solutions, however, the key to relaxing is really having fun. The real take away from this is to learn what you consider “fun”. Now, I know some of my friends have a few suggestions that might border on the legal fringe, so when considering your idea of fun, I have to request that you keep it legal. As I ponder this topic, I am reminded of Doctor Frazier Krane from the television show, of the same name, who entertained us, not with his psychology, but his antics. While there are expensive psychologists who will take our money for detailed exercises in futility, or we would be prepared for anything else, we acquire the skill and tackle this as well. It really all comes down to distracting ourselves so we can lose the focus on the negative points, and center our focus on “happy thoughts”. If you get a chance, check out the movie “Hook”, which stars Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan who has to find his “happy thoughts” to be able to fly again. A wonderfully played Captain Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman attempts to crush his ideas by trying to convince him that he is just an old accountant. Long story really short, he is able to find them and it’s a cute story. Check it out sometime.
They say that you’ll never see a motorcycle in front of a psychiatrist’s office and there is probably more truth in that than one would think. The idea that there are passionate motorcycle riders who “throw a leg over” and get some breeze therapy is certainly one way to go. There are so many different methods that are available for us to have fun and relax, however, I’d like to recommend that we take notes from any two to four year old you might know, as they are the absolute masters of having fun where ever they are. So, let’s think about some underlying principles about this idea. Young children are not bound by "rules" or societal approval, they know what makes them feel good. They have no article connection, so it's perfectly acceptable to use a kitchen pot as a helmet, or a cage for a stuffed animal who committed some imaginary crime. Imaginary play incites pure joy and multiplies exponentially the brain's capacity for growth. When is the last time you picked up a "GI Joe", or "Barbie" and had them riding a dinosaur over to where the stuffed animals awaited you for the tea party? Now, we can go into all types of psychological mumble-jumble, or we can look at some real-world realities, and maybe some ideas on how to break out of your blues. So, young children have the added benefit of saying whatever they feel without any reason to lie, thereby allowing them to remain happy. Again, taking lessons from the kids
Be honest. Honesty has a way of lifting our shoulders a little and putting some pep in our step. Be honest with yourself, your kids, your partners, everyone. This very basic principle comes from the underlying physiology in holding onto an untruth told to someone else. By misrepresenting something intentionally, our brains actually place a physiological strain on our systems by releasing epinephrine in an attempt to brace for the repercussions (remember fight or flight?). This flood of adrenaline creates almost imperceptible, involuntary muscle spasms, or actions in addition to activating glucose release to all major muscle groups. There has been an entire study on “micro-expressions”, where the expressions of the subjects produce small, involuntary muscle movements of the face. However, in much the same way that moving a cord of wood, muscles tense up, causing a psychological strain, ultimately exhaustion takes place, thereby continuing the downward spiral.
Don’t stress the things you can’t change. As humans, there is only so much we can physically do. By mentally holding onto things you can’t change, it has a negative psychological effect by diminishing your self-worth. This attack on your self-worth can be strengthened by one's inability to conquer whatever it is, “machoism” can increase this substantially as can the “independent” mindset. One needs to accept the limitations as they are, and not take it as a personal definition of who or what you are. Going back to our mantra of adapting and overcoming, maybe it’s a case of brains over brawn. Conceptualize a way to work around the limitation that still allows you to get that task complete. I am reminded of a commercial on the television. In this commercial, where a young boy steps onto a baseball diamond. He says “I am the greatest hitter in the world”. He then steps up to the home plate and tosses the ball up in the air. After several tosses and swings without a single hit, his little shoulders drop down a little as he stands there considering what’s happened. Then, a broad smile spreads over his face, and he says “I am the greatest pitcher in the world”. That is exactly the mental picture we need to have to find happiness in our lives. If you seek angst and stress, you will find it. However, if you seek peace and happiness, you will find it too. Seek happiness.
This couldn’t be a piece about finding peace without a segment on mindfulness. In this portion we’ll talk about yoga and meditation, finding that inner peace. In ancient China there evolved an intense understanding of the power of meditation. Allowing the mind to surgically remove those negative thoughts. There are plenty of studies done throughout the history of the advantage of rest and restoration. The opposite of epinephrine is the autonomic nervous system which provides the repair of the body and brain. This system is responsible for the restoration of damage caused by the rush of adrenaline through the system. It flushes lactic acid caused by overworking muscles of the body. In much the same way it assists in the repair of the neural transmitters in the human brain, thereby allowing us to think more clearly.
So, almost anyone who knows anything about physical fitness and psychology will tell you that taking a walk lowers the old blood pressure. By getting a little adrenaline going the brain can “flood out” those thoughts of depression and angst, essentially distracting ourselves. Exercise doesn’t mean running a marathon in your mask, it might mean a leisurely stroll with your family, and/or your pets. The idea is to relax and forget about your troubles for just a little while, however, in many cases, I think you’ll find a lot less anxiety when you return home. I’m not saying anything new here, almost any overpaid psychiatrist on the radio or TV is going to say this one is the greatest key to finding stress relief. However, I’m here to tell you it really does work wonders, many of my shows are dictated to my phone during these walks. Sometimes I argue with myself, but I always makeup by the time I get home.
However, for my personal exercise, I choose to roll around the yard with my young children, or grandkids, thereby focusing on time spent with family. Which brings us to, spending time with friends and family. Yea, we all know the drill, social distance of at least six feet, and mask up (unless they are a part of your everyday living bubble), or better still, meet up outside somewhere and hang out, have fun. Any way you slice it, enjoying some good company, good laughs, as this allows our bodies to release those hormones that make us feel better, more hopeful, and best of all, heal and grow. These are just the things this doctor orders for the mental break we all need.
Real stress relief can not be found in a bottle or other mind-altering drugs. While maybe seemingly helpful for a short stint, the depression will return with a vengeance making the situation far worse. This momentary loss of judgments, unfortunately, drags down more people than any other single situation and leads down the trail of both: self, and family, destruction. While having fun with a few drinks, or a little smoke is not a bad thing, moderation needs to be the order of the day to ensure that we stay off the slippery slope of substituting one for another.
The key is to find something that makes you happy and relish in it. During these, and any future times when the pressures of society are wearing you down, take a break. You don't have to spend any money to sit down for a minute and play a board game with your children, or partner, or even a friend, be creative and just take a break.
Potential Action Steps
1. Let the youngest member of the family design the game, and totally immerse yourself in it. Really visit neverland.
2. Take a stroll around your block, or up and down your street. No time limits, no hurry. Check out all the things you don't remember seeing before.
3. Play games. Board games, or silly In-Real-Life games. Pretend to be three again. Bang on pots and pans, use some safe things inappropriately.
4. Enjoy the sport? Figure out how to go curling in the summertime. Again, let your imagination take control, let yourself become exhausted having fun.
5. Take a road trip to somewhere nearby, just to be away. The idea here is to break the boundaries of being stuck at home. Be free for a little while.
During my undergraduate studies at Wayland Baptist University, I had a professor explain to me a method that he used to get through medical school.
He explained that his wife and he had planted a tree in their front yard, strategically between the driveway and their front door. The doctor would come home from a 13-hour shift at the hospital. His day would have been filled with pain and stress, as he worked a rotation in the emergency room at the local hospital. He would wearily step out of his car and stop at the tree. He would then take off an imaginary jacket and hang it on the tree branch, promising himself to get it the following morning. It was a mental shift that he described as something that he had to focus on. A deliberate task that he completed religiously, allowing him to enjoy his wife’s, and children’s, time, and company during the evening.
By confining ourselves into negative, or even neutral places, we can multiply the stresses, worry, and angst we are all feeling, especially, now. Some of you have mentioned being a hardened worker or entrepreneur that considers "fun" a waste of time. That couldn't be any further from the truth. I mean really. As a private business owner, or having a successful career, do you remember your first success? Yes, this isn't a hypothetical question. Think back. Close your eyes and really concentrate. Whatever it was that catapulted you to winding up here. That moment when you figured out you did it, you conquered a challenge. Maybe in was getting code to act right, or landing that big client, or even changing the oil in your car by yourself. Whatever it was, I want you to remember that exhilaration. Now imagine that's how a three-year-old feels when they stack two blocks on top of one another. Ladies and gentlemen, let me re-introduce you to happiness... Welcome back.
One last idea about getting on the right side of your mind. Personally, I find much joy and relaxation in knowing that my preparations are as good as they can be. I admit, I’m kind of a stickler for organization, and establishing clearly defined action steps. I find that I receive relief and a good feeling about offering my family the best chance for survival. By inspecting my stores and preps, does provide a level of comfort and removes that stressor.
Joy and happiness can be found in every nook and cranny throughout all of existence, we are responsible for keeping it going. Responsible to pass it on to generation after generations, that really becomes our legacy. I'm reminded of documentaries about the early 1900s where children played with sticks, and dolls of straw, and they loved every minute of it. I'm here to tell you, fun involves letting your inner child come out and immerse us in the aged old activity of play. Forgetting about the worries of adulthood m, if only for a while. My next request may seem weird at first, but bear with me, I would like you to take one and a half hours, two times a week to be three. Oh, and you will definitely want to be potty trained. Have fun, liberate your cares and worries.
So, whether we are in the grips of an international pandemic, or facing life after a zombie apocalypse, the idea of engaging our imagination to have fun at play is what will allow us to stay sane. I will continue to enjoy this life as long as I am above the daisies, I pray you can do the same. As you may recall from previous shows I have reminded you of the skill of using mental exercises to sharpen one's focus. I stand by that same level of dedication for committing oneself to the current engagement, whatever that may be. This is no different to engage in this reckless abandon to have fun. Have fun with all your might.
Well, there’s my two cents for what that’s worth nowadays. I hope I’ve provided a foundation for you to continue to research the means to decrease the amount of stress and mental struggles among you and your families. As always I am humbled that you have chosen to join us for this discussion, I look forward to enjoying more conversations with you, the American people, and a beautiful part of the human race. God bless you all, and God bless the United States. Peace
[Submitted by Mark Weisman]