I am ridiculously suggestible; I am not sure if I haven’t always been. Not unlike the persistent use of double negatives, it is certainly a character flaw. I have recently been teaching various self-development courses and, on the face of it, things are going well. That is in that the learners return, are able to say what they are applying usefully in their lives and seem to take the time in the classroom in a reasonably engaged manner. Lately we have been looking at the effects of stress on the body – anxiety being a live issue for many of the class. Me being me, I can’t just stand there yapping about it though; no, I must test various theories and strategies myself, if only to save them the bother. In any case, reducing stress can’t hurt, right?
In that spirit of experimenting on self I downloaded a phone app that purports to not simply measure your pulse, but to measure the times between your heart beat when you place your finger tip over the camera lens on your smart phone. I used it for the first time this morning, when I felt a little tense, after rushing to work and fighting to park the car in an awkward space: Honda Civics present an interesting paradox in that they are lovely to look at – but awful to look out of. The app takes about two minutes to do that which it is that it does, whatever that is, so I stood in the car park with my stuff all on the floor and on the roof of the car, looking completely normal…
My results were not good. I was in the red zone of stress. In the over 80% figures. I was labelled ‘Extreme Stress’. My phone told me what to do. Stop whatever it is that you are doing and RELAX. Easier said than done when the class was due to start, but taking the advice on the chin (and because I was secretly worried I might have a cardiac arrest right there in the car park due to the extreme shock about the extreme stress diagnosis) I repaired to the canteen for a brew. Now, even I know that caffeine and extreme stress are bad bedfellows, so I was hoping for a cup of cat’s wee, otherwise known as camomile. They had run out. I settled for a fruit tea instead and quickly took my stress level again. I was now deemed to be at a very low stress level – around 10%
All was good then and the class went ahead as usual. Teaching is demanding, both physically and mentally. To be fair, my class were all fairly unstressed when we tested them during proceedings, but after the class I was doing some admin and became aware of a little niggle headache coming on behind the eyes. I took some paracetamol and whipped out the stress app again (in the name of science you understand, I am in no way obsessed). Unbelievably, I was in Extreme Stress mode once again. Suddenly I felt close to a heart or panic attack and my first thought was that admin is so deleterious to my health I must rush home to preserve myself. Somehow I rode out the storm and by the time I got home and tested myself (again) I was down to 0% stress.
I was still concerned about the effect the extreme levels were having on me (if you’d have asked me I wouldn’t have said it was an especially stressful day prior to the app). so I thought I would be best to get straight down the seafront with the children to meditate on an ice-cream, as ice-cream, I mean meditation, is shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream. All was fine until I realised that
a) I didn’t like the ice-cream and gave it to the dog
b) I didn’t know where the children were
As it turned out, they were the two dots somewhere out there…
Which was also completely fine, until I realised that the tide was coming in, that they could drown and then my stress levels shot through the roof. The truth is when you are REALLY stressed the last thing you are going to do is measure it for two minutes on a bloody smart phone app.
Then when I got home and zoomed in on them in the shot, I could see that they were as far from stressed as could be. It was just me. The class weren’t stressed and neither were the kids or the dog. It was just me and the app busting our chops.
And that, at the end of a funny sort of day, was a good thing to know.