Everyone has challenge in their lives. Everyone experiences stress. In recent years studies have shown that some amount of stress in our lives is healthy and good. What is unhealthy is how we think about stress. We tend to think of stress and pressure as bad. We frame challenges as things that must be overcome through an exhausting amount of effort just to maintain status quo. But what if that wasn't the case? What if stress pressure and challenge built us up, or rebuilt us better?
What is pressure?
Wikipedia defines pressure as: “the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed.” Basically, the accepted definition of pressure is how hard something is pushing on something else. That’s how we always talk about it.
People talk about the amount of force we use to decrease cook times in our pressure cookers. The weight of things we carry and the stress they exert on our bodies. We use it as a metaphor for the external pressures that society puts on us at work, in our families and in our social lives as well as the internal pressures we put on ourselves to be loved, respected and accepted.
Applying Massage Theory to find the perfect pressure
But massage therapists know that there is more to pressure than force being applied in one direction. Our patients come in and they ask for “light pressure” or “deep pressure” and while there are commonly accepted ranges of how hard to “push”, everybody’s definition of “light” or “deep” differs. So much so that one person’s “deep” is another person’s “light.”
The trick with finding the perfect massage pressure is to apply force only until we meet a certain amount of resistance. In perfect pressure that resistance is almost always the same. I can’t explain it - it’s a feel that comes with years of experience working with muscle. It’s all tactile feedback and automatic responses that skip over the conscious part of my brain. I can, however, share with you how I learned to find it.
When you rest your hands on skin, that’s light pressure. You’re exerting force through the weight of your hand or their body but you’re not influencing the underlying tissue. You press until the tissue starts pushing you out. This is extremely deep pressure and if maintained would be uncomfortable on everybody. Then you let off until the tissue is no longer pushing you out, but rather, yielding to your touch. The pressure is enough to tear apart adhesions (“knots”) and create enough microtrauma to start the healing response but not enough to bruise or damage underlying tissue. This is the perfect pressure for everybody I work with. With some people this is harder than others - I have to exert more force. With others it’s extraordinarily easy.
Perfect pressure in life
This doesn’t just apply to bodywork. It applies to life. We talk about all of these external pressures or “stresses” that impact our life. Some people can handle more pressures than others. Some people can hardly handle any at all. Some people handle pressures in relationships, finances or their careers better than others.
The ones who succeed and use the minors stresses or “microtraumas” to heal are the ones who have found the “perfect pressure.” These are the people that can face their challenges and despite the fear or worry can push back with enough force to grow. This means pressure isn’t just a factor how hard something pushes on you but also how hard you are pushing back.
How much is too much?
You can’t grow without pressure - if life isn’t prompting you to change then things will eventually stagnate. You’ll stay the same. This is too little pressure. Can you imagine if you were still the same person and in the same situation ten years ago? Now I went through some pretty heavy shit over the past ten years. All of it was stressful and all of it was hard. And all of it got me to a better place. We need these microtraumas and we should embrace them. Even my business has come up against challenges and it was these challenges that have made my practice what it is today.
There is a point where the stress gets to be too much. All of the pressures in your life get to be overwhelming. You feel empty, sad, frustrated or all of the above. You are bruised. You’re pushing back as hard as you can but the pressure is too much. You aren’t tissue and your challenges aren’t a Universal Massage Therapist that can modulate their pressure. You still can find a way to push back and that’s what your tribe is for.
Use your community as a source of strength to find what you need to push back enough so that 'Overwhelm' becomes a 'Manageable Challenge'. This could be a friend, a business colleague, or even a counselor. Just remember that you don’t have to do this alone.
Find a way to lean into it or find help
What I’m trying to say is that when the force of something pressing down on you seems too much and you can’t bear it, ask yourself what you can do to lean into it. And if you can’t do it on your own recruit help so that your combined force can push your challenge back to something more manageable and healing.
Don't worry, we 've got this.
Related links and posts:
Kelly McGonigal's TED Talk 'How to make stress your friend'
Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Antifragile'
Tools that I've used to push back against my business challeges
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What challenges have you faced that have made you a better person or a more successful practitioner/entrepreneur?
Jessica Gustafson, L.Ac.
I am an acupuncturist and a mama from the Twin Cities. I needed a place to talk about the nitty gritty of bootstrapping a clinic, parenting and freelancing so I made a blog. Hooray! It was never meant to become what it has, but blogs evolve. I've enjoyed the process and look forward to developing it more as I grow.
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