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Current Rants and Recent Rambles

03-27-09: Stress Kills

Last night on PBS I saw a program called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer". To quote from the PBS page:

"Groundbreaking research reveals surprising facts about the impact of stress on our bodies: how it can shrink our brains, add fat to our bellies and even unravel our chromosomes. Understanding how stress works can help us figure out ways to combat it and mitigate negative impacts on our health."

The chemicals produced by the body during stress was meant for us to run after prey, or run away from a predator. It's the fight or flight chemistry. When the predator is out run and we're safe these stress chemicals are supposed to stop. That is why Dr. Robert Sapolsky wrote the book "Why Zebras don't get ulcers", which was a best seller.

Studies of both baboons and British civil servants (Whitehall Studies) showed the same illnesses that came from stress. Those high on the pecking order had less high blood pressure, plaque in the arteries, belly fat, degradation of the brain, and damage to the chromosomes. Those lower on the pecking order had higher incidents of these illness and brain and chromosome damage.

Dr. Sapolsky spent ten years studying a tribe of baboons when half the population was killed by eating garbage from a tourist resort. The meat was tainted with Tuberculosis. Only the alpha males and their favorites were able to get the tainted food. That meant that those very members of the tribe who caused the most stress to others were dead. What happened afterward was amazing, the tribe became peaceful. All new young males that joined the tribe took six months to learn how to be peaceful. This has lasted for 20 years.

What this means to us humans is if we lower the stressors in our life we can live a longer and more healthy life. When we share tips on how to reduce stress we build a better society.

The problem with modern life is we stress about things that are psychological. Rarely is there a lion running after us intent on having us for dinner. We stress about money or lack of money. We stress about the price of gasoline, of our retirement savings shrinking because of the crash on Wall Street. We stress about our jobs or lack of jobs. We're sleeping poorly, having less sex, seeing a rise in domestic violence, road rage, and after vehicle accidents and infections, the third leading cause of death at the work place is homicide.

Now what does this have to do with polymer clay and miniatures?

What does this have to do with CITY-o-Clay?

A whole lot.

The reason why COC has a tradition of stress free Newbie Box swaps is stress makes swaps unpleasant.

The reason why COC does not allow SPAM is we clay for good mental health and not for money.

The reason why COC maintains a peaceful environment is because flame wars, cliques, in fighting do not promote a peaceful environment.

The COCModSquad came across these policies not from scientific studies but rather from our own experiences. What sort of online environment made us feel bad? What were the sources of those stressors? How can we avoid those stressors to have an online group that makes us feel loved, nurtured, and safe to explore our creative potential?

The volunteers are regular folks, just like our group members. What would make us feel peaceful is what we felt would make our group members feel peaceful.

We realized that a stressful environment isn't conducive to learning a new thing. An environment where beginners are diminished isn't one that encourages new clayers to post question.

For years we have battled SPAM. The worse the economy gets the more we are fighting SPAM. We had to moderate all new group members until they introduced themselves and let us know that they aren't in our group just to pick our pocket. There's a number of people who are resentful that they couldn't use COC as a captive audience for the things they have to sell. But the COCModSquad stood firm.

In the process of selling clayers aren't as likely to answer questions posed by new clayers or do social bonding. They are busy making product, marketing their wares, running their business, and the only time we'd hear from them was when they wanted to advertise their stuff.

When groups of "professional" clayers start a discussion about sales it makes new clayers feel diminished because the goal seems to be to make things that will sell instead of making things that are an expression of personal creativity.

I've been discussing this since 2002, Claying for Dollars or Claying for Healing.

The ClayMates who have chronic illness like Lupus, Fibromyalgia, or who are on oxygen 24/7, find that when they clay for creative pleasure they forget about their discomfort when they are in a creative zone.

The benefit of doing something you love, something that makes you feel like you have some control (the leading motivation of doll house enthusiasts), your health is improved. Just like someone in a low ranking job feels better about life because he's the captain of the company softball team (as stated on the PBS program).

We often remind the ClayMates that they are the 900 pound gorilla at their work table. They only have themselves to please. What we create is for our self expression. If what we make sells or other people like it then fine, if not then fine too. What others think of our work is a moot point. We are creating for ourselves.

What is the purpose of creative output? Why are we creating? You will find that if you create for the joy of it, to master your skill set, to express yourself that you will be more peaceful and live a longer life. If you are on some mad dash production schedule, stressing out about selling, getting disappointed when you don't make a certain amount of money with your sales, adjusting your creations to please the buying public, then you're going suffer the ill health and shortened lifetimes that comes with that stress.

Stress Reduction is something that can be learned. It's something that is necessary to learn while we go through these uncertain times.

As for me, I have stresses in my life, they are psychological and not physical, and I found that by looking at the situation from another perspective I can lower my stress. I found that being flexible about changes I have no control over is better than shaking my hand at the rain clouds shouting at the sky "Don't rain on my parade!". Get out of the rain, open an umbrella, dance in the rain, be glad that you'll be able to flush the toilet, there's a number of things I can do to be more flexible about circumstances I can't control.

Unmet expectations lead to disappointment, enough disappointment leads to rebellion.

Anger is a mask for fear, pain and shame.

When we adjust our reaction to situations out of our control and find another way to view them we can reduce our stress.

Another thing I remind myself of daily is fear is the opposite of faith. It's a spiritual matter when I am afraid of what might happen in the future.

The most easily accessed activity to reduce stress is to sit at my worktable and get a grip on my clay. I can forget trying times and sad situations when I am claying. I can control a little part of my universe when I work with my miniatures.

Lastly, social networks lead to reduced depression.

  • Sense of belonging. Spending time with people helps ward off loneliness. Whether it's other new moms, dog lovers, fishing buddies or siblings, just knowing you're not alone can go a long way toward coping with stress.

  • Increased sense of self-worth. Having people who call you a friend reinforces the idea that you're a good person to be around.

  • Feeling of security. By reaching out and sharing yourself with others, you have the added security of knowing that if you start to show signs of depression or exhibit unhealthy lifestyle habits, your friends can help alert you to the problem.

CITY-o-Clay is our social network. There's more off topic posts than posts about clay. We talk about our lives, our families. We celebrate new births and console each other when loved ones die. We pray for one another. Our group is a place where one can feel accepted and be secure that it's one place online where there will be positive energy and each member can be secure when they explore their artistic energies.

That benefit of having a social network can only work if you participate. Do you need encouragement to try a new technique? Are you frustrated with a technique that doesn't seem to work for you? Did you find a website that made you go "WOW!"? Do you know an answer to someone's question? Post, become an active participant of the group, get the benefit of having a peaceful, positive, social network that's there for you, in so doing, reduce your stress.


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