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  • Slow Down to Lower Your Stress and Pain (and be More Productive)

    In a hurry

    I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling stressed I tend to kick it into high gear. And by gear, I mean speed. I talk faster, drive faster (shhhh…. don’t tell the cops), answer test questions faster, scroll through Facebook faster, and even eat/drink faster.

    The trouble is none of that does me any good: When I talk faster, people can’t understand me and I have to repeat myself. When I answer test questions faster, I get questions wrong when I actually knew the correct answer. When I eat or drink faster, the signals from my stomach can’t keep up and I tend to eat or drink too much. When the cops pull me over for driving too fast, I’m suddenly a lot later than I would have been if I’d just gone the stupid speed limit. When I scroll through Facebook at top speed… hmmm… now that I think about it, I’m not sure there is a downside to spending less time on Facebook, so maybe I should take that one off the list.

    All of those are fine examples of how rushing doesn’t help, but there’s another one that I want to focus on today. When you rush, you tense your muscles. It’s not just that you tense your muscles more than you need to; you tense muscles that you’re not even using. How messed up is that?

    What’s the Rush?

    The reason you tense your muscles is because rushing is stressful, and stress is often the reason that you’re rushing in the first place. So basically, rushing is a double shot of stress. Cause you don’t have enough as it is, right?

    I’ll bet, that unless you’ve been paying close attention, you have no idea just how much you tense your muscles while rushing. Until I started a mindfulness practice, neither did I. So let’s run through a couple examples.

    We’ll go back to my original list and start with the driving example. If you’re like most people, when you’re driving somewhere in a rush, you tense up your entire arm and shoulder because you’re using your GI Joe KungFu grip on the steering wheel. You probably also tense both of your legs, both hips, and even your back muscles. Sure you need to use your legs, and possibly your hips as well, to control the gas, brake, and clutch (if you’re awesome enough to drive a manual transmission) but they don’t need to be fully engaged for the entire trip. And if you’re rushing, I’ll bet they are. Your back should be doing nothing more than resting against the seat back. But when you’re in a hurry you tense that up too, don’t you? I know I do.

    Walking in a rush is a similar story. I tense just about every muscle in my body, most of which aren’t involved in walking at all, including my back muscles. I tend to have a heavy foot fall under normal walking conditions and it becomes downright thunderous when I rush. So, when I’m in a hurry, I alter my gait in an attempt to be quieter. Not only does this have me tensing muscles in ways I shouldn’t be, it also causes foot, ankle, knee, and hip strain from the altered gait.

    But I save time, right? Mmmm… not so much. I only save myself about 0.9 seconds while hurrying down a 24 ft hallway. Yes, I actually measured the hallway and timed myself hurrying and walking normally. I actually thought I’d save more, but I realized that I take (more) smaller steps when I rush vs the (fewer) longer steps I take when I’m walking normally. So not only do I not save much time, I also work harder doing it. And still, I do it. *smh*

    So there’s negligible time saved by rushing when you walk, but surely you can get more work done if you push on through as quick as you can. Again, not so much. Study after study, as well as lots of practical real world experience, has shown me that the faster you rush through your work, the more mistakes you make. If you multitask, it’s even worse. So, you might get your project done quickly, but your boss is going to send it back to you to fix. So congratulations, you now get to work on it twice, instead of just once. That saved you a lot of time and increased your productivity, didn’t it?

    So slow down a bit. You’re not saving that much time anyway. For a little extra time, you’ll have less stress, less tension, and less pain. I think that’s a fair trade off, Don’t you?