I wanted to do a fun/commentary piece today about stress and stress relief. Some of this post is purely entertainment. Some of it is intended to help manage stress.
When the shutdowns began back in March of 2020, I began working remotely. I’ve been in a state of near-remote work for ten months now. We’ve had a couple of false starts since that time where it looked like we might go back to the real thing, only to be thwarted by COVID spikes that put us back into the remote category. The good news is that we are slated to go back live starting on Tuesday, after the MLK holiday.
I brought up that time span because I wanted to share one of the stress relief activities I’ve engaged in during the ensuing ten months. I’ve been playing Candy Crush and Two Dots on my phone. These are puzzle games. Nothing more than frivolous and mindless entertainment. I knew when the shutdowns began I would need some form of mindless entertainment to vent stress when I needed a mental break.
Now, the personally important part I need to tell you is that I am crushing it on Candy Crush. Again, I started the day we went remote ten months ago. I haven’t made purchases in the game because that’s just cheating. In that time, I’ve gotten to level 1,194. No lie. I really am that good.
I’m not quite as good in Two Dots. But I’m still pretty good. Frankly, it’s a harder puzzle game than Candy Crush, but equally rewarding when it comes to wasting time. I’ve gotten to level 884.
As you can see, my bona fides for mindless puzzle games is on full display. I kid, of course. Anyone can play these games and play them well with practice. For me, they offered a few minutes escape here and there throughout each day. I could set aside whatever had been occupying my mind and focus on nothing more than solving the puzzle in front of me.
This is something critical to our minds and our social interactions. Emile Durkheim, famed French Sociologist, studied suicide, publishing his findings in 1897. The part that is relevant to us today is something he referred to as fatalistic suicide. He described this as resulting from too much social regulation where a person believes they have nothing to look forward to. Having seen our society shuttered for ten months already, this is an important discussion for us to recognize the lesser understood impacts of the COVID pandemic.
I don’t want to jump into a frank discussion about suicide itself. I imagine most of us know someone who has taken their life. Perhaps, we know someone who has done so as a result of the pandemic shutdowns. Regardless, it’s always tragic and we’re left to wonder what we could have done to help.
Rather, I want to discuss stress management. For me, I knew I would need outlets for my stress over the lengthy shutdowns. (I never believed it would be fifteen days to flatten the curve, for what it’s worth.) I dove into my professional work, completing certain projects that I could with the time freed up in my mind that allowed me to do so. I dove into my creative writing and published my novel in November. I dove into my time with my wife and daughter, taking advantage of the opportunity to simply see them more than I would while working full time. I dove into my reading of classics from Steinbeck and Hemingway. And I dove into mindless escape by playing puzzle games on my phone.
I will assume that you have developed some level of stress management for your own life. Maybe you’re good at managing it. Maybe you would like to improve in this area. Still, you’re here, reading this, which tells me that you can manage stress well enough that you have survived the most unusual stretch of time we’ve seen in decades.
In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as anticipatory anxiety. This means that a person is fearful of a future situation because of its unpredictable outcome. If you read about this phenomenon, you will find many coping strategies that may or may not work for you. Nevertheless, it’s work a quick read on any of a number of websites to see how this sort of stress affects you.
The part that stands out to me is the unpredictable aspect of this future situation. As I look at my loved ones, my friends and colleagues, and strangers I interact with on a casual basis, I can’t help but consider that too many people are functioning with anticipatory anxiety because they haven’t correctly predicted the outcomes in their lives. Certainly, we cannot predict the future. We cannot know what will or will not happen. At the same time, we can make reasonable predictions that afford our minds the chance to have pre-planned a variety of reasonable responses to reasonably expected outcomes.
For example, I mentioned above that I did not believe we were in for a two-week shutdown when the craziness started in March. Call me a tin-foil hat type. I simply read the writing on the wall and expected prolonged closures of varying degrees based on a reading of history and an understanding that we were in uncharted waters for addressing an international pandemic. Sure, there have been other pandemics. Sure there have been other international emergencies. Still, the signs pointed to a massive FUBAR because it seemed like everyone was caught flat-footed, being outrun by an invisible virus.
All of this told me to discard reasonable outcomes for reasonable scenarios. It told me to secure my tin-foil hat and begin to anticipate unreasonable outcomes based on fear, limited and developing information, and societal responses to an increasing level of social regulation. I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong about the outcomes we’ve experienced. That doesn’t make me a genius (unless you want to call me that). It simply means I was one of many people who understood that to manage the new stresses we would face, we would need to anticipate outcomes that did not mirror life as we knew it.
Circling back to my puzzle games, this mindless form of entertainment has afforded me the opportunity to vent emotional and psychological steam (another of Durkheim’s theories) so that my social deviance (see Durkheim) was kept to reasonable outlets. For however much longer we are shuttered, I encourage you to cogitate about your own coping strategies for anticipating future outcomes. I also encourage you to find reasonable outlets to vent your steam so that you don’t fall victim to the unreasonable outcomes, such as fatalistic suicide.
I hope to have struck a balance between entertainment and commentary here. I think we all need to constantly monitor that balance within ourselves to ensure we don’t get too high or too low with all of the unknowns going on around us. Thanks for staying tuned in. As always, this has been the World According to Chris.