Stress and the Rubber Band

Rubber bands at restPicture a rubber band for a moment. With very little tension it sits there “doing nothing,” lying on your desk somewhat formless and lifeless. At first glance, you might think it’s not very useful in this state. However, I’d like to think that the  rubber band at rest could be equated to the moments in our lives when we are quiet and calm, either in a meditative state or enjoying a good night’s sleep.

Put that rubber band to work and it immediately starts to stretch. What happens when you wrap it around a rolled up piece of paper? If it’s the right size and width and you wrap it just the right number of times, it becomes an effective tool for keeping that paper rolled up for years on end, or at least until the material wears out and looses elasticity. (You know, like aging.)

Now think about the same rubber band when it’s stretched further than is optimal. Imagine pulling it wide with your fingers or wrapping it around the same rolled up piece of paper one too many times. What is likely to happen, if not right away, eventually?

  • It wears out
  • It breaks

Now, replace the rubber band with you, (giving it a brain with the ability to measure, assess and modulate). You, like the rubber band, are feeling just the “right” level of tension as you go about your work.  In an optimal state of stress or tension:

  • You are patient and trusting, with no need to rush or force the outcomes.
  • When you hit the end of your limits you stop working and do something else.
  • You are comfortable with the idea that you are perfectly suited for specific tasks and not as well for others. (After all, a rubber band is not a hammer.)
  • You are emotionally and physically resilient.
  • If something – or someone – comes along that threatens to disturb the calm, you feel the tension increase but your reactions are brief. You adjust and move on.

You can’t expect to remain motionless any more than you can expect to operate for prolonged periods at maximum capacity. You wouldn’t want to. Life is always changing, and you are, too. Through different experiences you establish new set points; sometimes they are lower and sometimes they are higher. Well-tuned bodies operate quite well within an optimal level of stress.

We grow through “stress.” However, we don’t grow through unrelenting stress. Next time you feel tired, remember the rubber band. Perhaps you’re only stretched a little too far for longer than you can actually withstand. Pull back a little and feel the tension disappear. Imagine your body (emotional and physical) plumping right back up, relaxed and functional. Take all the time you need.

2 thoughts on “Stress and the Rubber Band

  1. Joan Friedlander

    Dina, that’s an astute observation. “Sprung” from winter, we stretch in spring. The seasons give way to excellent metaphors for the cycles of life.

  2. The rubber band is a great metaphor.
    Funny I wrote about resilience, bounce back, this week too. Perhaps with the energy of this spring season we are reminded of both bounce back of the earth and our own tendency to take that energy a bit farther than we can, and then we need to bounce back ourselves.

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