Getting Stressed Over Getting Stressed

These days we are being reminded of the detrimental effects of stress. There are a myriad of symptoms that indicate stress and there are many consequences of leading a stressful life, like death. Not only should you stop eating gluten but you should stop stressing. Babies born to stressed out mums are put into anger management soon after birth and people are twisting themselves into shapes that resemble pretzels to try to relieve stress. How do you stop yourself from stressing? It’s enough to frazzle the strongest nerve system.

Recently I went to a 10 day Buddhist retreat.   Naturally the greatest proportion of the retreat was spent in silence and in meditation. The benefits of meditation as a coping mechanism against stress are widely regarded. So at several points during the day, starting at the spritely hour of 6 am, I attended meditation sessions. The first thing you notice is the cross-legged position one is ask to assume during the meditation. Forget about emptying your mind, try getting past the excruciating pain that slowly becomes more acute like someone practising vocal scales. Sitting like this turned my ankles into dam walls that prevented the flow of blood to my feet. Every time I tried to quietly change position to relieve the pain and without breaking concentration the pain simply moved. The cordoned off blood was sent cascading back into my feet causing the most acute pins and needles I’ve experienced to date. Now, although it wasn’t guaranteed in the brochure I really wanted to experience some form of transcendental meditative experience. One where I’m looking at my body from the outside, reliving my past life or at least shaking hands with Buddha. Every time I got close to a meditative state I tried pushing myself to go further into such a state, which I eventually had to stop doing when I thought I’d had an aneurysm.   Another element that disrupted me reaching enlightenment was the retreat containing two breathers. These people treated meditation as an endurance sport that required long, drawn out inhales and loud exhales that according to the chaos theory could be the reason behind the storms in Nicaragua recently. In between my legs hurting, the gusty breathers in the room and my exhausted attempts to reach Nirvana, I found meditation to be an antithesis to relaxation and mildly stressful.

In the same vein, my housemate convinced me to sign up for a month long trial of Bikram yoga. Bikram yoga is a style of yoga that is carried out in a 40C heated room and has been used at Guantanamo bay. First of all I am an incredibly inflexible person. My hamstrings could doubles as violin strings. Because of this I found each position either impossible or incredibly painful; add to the mix you are continually drenching yourself in your own bodily fluids and you’ve got a beautiful photo. I soon became a little envious of all the hot, half naked bodies that could put their feet behind their heads with ease. I needed to master these moves. I wanted to be up the front of the class. I wanted to be the least stressed in the whole room. The harder I tried to achieve this the more energy I exerted, the more I sweated and the hotter I got. In a 40C room full of people the air gets pretty thin and my heart started to race. Checking my proximity to all the exits I found myself torn between my sense of pride and having a panic attack. Hardly a calming experience.

Without going down the road of pharmacology, herbal remedies and vitamins are presented as a good way to help you through stressful times. Valerian, passionflower, hops, vitamin B, oats, Californian poppy and opium are all viewed as to aides for relaxation and relieving nervous tension. Dabbling with different remedies and vitamin tablets I only really noticed the colour of my urine change. Speaking it over with a friend studying natural medicine they advised me that I needed to be careful. Interactions between certain substances, my diet and lifestyle habits and the quality of said preparations all played a part in their effectiveness. Was mixing my passionflower with my St. Johns wart actually increasing my unease? Should I buy Blackmores or Natures way? Did I already take my ginseng today or was that my fish oil? It all seemed a bit out of hand and I would advise anyone to see a naturopath before deciding upon alternative therapies.

Many people swear by these techniques as relieving stress and in all honesty the methods I trialled weren’t wholly ineffective; they actually did make me feel calmer in some instances. As I’ve detailed it wasn’t necessarily the activities in themselves that helped, sometimes they hindered. It was the fact that I’d made space for my stress. With the meditation I had consciously set aside 10 days to take time out and contemplate. With yoga I was setting aside an hour and half three times a week to do an activity to improve my overall wellbeing. I had gone out of my way to research and consider my body’s need for extra nutritional support. I had afforded myself something valuable-time. In doing some of these activities I had become focused on doing them to a certain level and I had an expectation of what feeling relaxed should be. To simply create time to just feel and acknowledge how I was feeling and not to keep soldiering on made me feel a lot better.


You Can’t Take Your Money When You Die, but You Can Insure Against It

Having recently plugged the aerial back into the wall socket I have invited free to air TV back into my house. It became clear very quickly that I haven’t missed much and how annoying it is to have Harvey Norman yelling at me or being made aware of how many germs there are around me. What genre of ads that particularly annoys me are the ones pertaining to individual insurance, specifically funeral and life insurance. These ads seem to rotate on all commercial channels ad nauseam.

The ads have relatively similar and select advertising approaches. One approach is how much one cares for their family. Due to you caring for your family so much the last thing you want to do is burden them with debt. Kind of like the financial burden they’ve been on you for the vast majority of your life. The relative company illuminates this point visually with very healthy looking people in the latter half of their life, smiles plastered on their face, doing various family tasks like; bike riding, cooking, going to the beach and picking out coffins. The best scenario I found was a grandmother with her grandson at the zoo. They stop and the grandmother points out to her grandson a koala with its baby clinging to its back. The voice over says something along the lines, ‘caring for your family is natural and so is your need for funeral insurance’ or something like that. The trip to the zoo had really driven home the point of how ‘natural’ it is to care for your family and how ‘unnatural’ it would be to make them pay for your funeral out of their pocket. If a Koala could, it would, so you should take a long hard look at yourself then call this number.

The next approach is life insurance freeing up your life. It gives you peace of mind so you can do more things in your life. Remember when you retired and you wanted to participate in the running of the bulls but you were really worried you’d get gored to death and make your partner destitute? Well now you can remove the destitution element with insurance. The imagery associated with this notion is grey haired people running out of the surf with surfboard underarm, camping together in the outback and again riding bicycles. These are just the typical activities that all older people want to do but can’t because they are racked with anxiety due to impending death. Now they are liberated to do these activities thanks to life insurance. Now even their friends comment on how at ease they are these days and how willing they are to accept their invitation to break the sound barrier together.

The next angle is just how cheap and easy it is to do. It’s really a, ‘why wouldn’t you?’ question masquerading as a, ‘how selfish are you?’ question. It’s cheaper than your nightly sherry and you don’t have to go through any medical tests. The ones where they check the continuity of your urine stream and how quickly you can blow up a balloon, to test how close to the grave you are. It’s directed debited from your bank account, coinciding with your pension if you like, so you won’t even know it’s gone; mainly because you don’t know how to use internet banking. I used to work for a banking institution and I know firsthand that many customers did call up to block these direct debits coming out or overdrawing them or having opted out of the plan yet were still being debited. It’s easy to start let’s say.

I don’t view these schemes as wholly bad and I do think people should think about the future and death. With compulsory superannuation skipping a lot of people I can understand the concern the impact your death would have on those around you. Without reading the fine print the schemes present themselves well in their utility. But there are so many ads on commercial TV that it makes me want to plan my own funeral. The other thing that peeves me aside from the ubiquity of these commercials is the blatant capitalisation on death. Where do they come up with these figures of $6000 for a standard funeral? Also the notion that if you die accidentally you get more money, which comes with a massive asterisk. It’s the extent of the companies that offer these products and their advertising reminding you of how burdensome your death will be. Let’s hope your existence wasn’t as much as a burden as your death will be and let’s hope that your death isn’t as much an annoyance as these ads.

My Actions aren’t Lazy, You’re Definition May Be

My generation (generation y) is often looked down upon as lazy; that we have reaped the benefits of the generations that have come before and have things pretty easy. I must admit that the times I’ve chopped wood for the boiler or rode my bicycle 20km to work are seldom. Are we a truly lazy bunch and is there any value in reengaging with a previously laborious life that each generation has tried to better?

I, admittedly, often feel rather lazy. I feel like I’m not doing enough or that I’m frittering away my time. One vice that tends to elicit my greatest feeling of sloth is watching TV shows. Like many people I enjoy watching whole seasons of TV shows in one sitting often on the weekend when it’s bright and sunny outside. But I do this with a sense of guilt. The biggest manifestation of my guilt is apparent when someone comes to do maintenance at the house I am residing in. Recently a man came round to put up a new back-fence. I knew he would do a good job because his shorts stopped at the end of his well equipped tool belt. I was in the midst of binge watching Tina Feyes new show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but just could not relax whilst watching it. The fact the man was there working and I was lounging around watching shows in the day time made me feel uneasy. I tried moving out of his line of sight but his gaze became omnipresent. Maybe I should go out and help him? Then I’d show him I wasn’t really lazy and could then go back to watching my shows. Having thought this over for a second I thought I’d be more of a hindrance than a help. As the man was quite friendly I decided to go out with a coffee for him and explain to him how hard I normally work and how I don’t always sit around watching TV shows. The man smiled and nodded occasionally but I could tell he was slightly bewildered by my confession.

I have a few friends who are good at constructive things like building fences and tend to always have full calendars. They are always busy doing positive things like organising community events, running marathons or knitting jumpers for stray dogs. These are the people that are consistently making ‘good’ use of their time, keeping their hands busy and away from the devil. I really admire these people but cant help feeling I fall short in the Good Samaritan, community minded, and body-is-a-temple mentality. My weekend seems to land with a thud in my lap with no real planning to shape it. On Sunday night when the takeaway and alcohol sitting in my stomach is preventing sleep I make plans for the next weekend. My plans often involve visiting country towns, going to the theatre, getting my groceries from the farmers market and seeing live music before Sunday is finished. I’m lucky if one of these things comes to fruition.

Before I continue I need to make a declaration, if you haven’t noticed already. Although no one in my family is explicitly religious two of the main sects of Christianity have influenced my understanding of laziness. On my father’s side my family is culturally and historically attached to Protestantism. Due to this the protestant work ethic has rubbed off on me slightly. This requires your body to be primed and functioning for the economy and that work should take precedence over worldly pleasures. For me to sit inside on a clear sunny day contradicts this to the extreme. Complimenting this, from kindergarten to grade 10 I was educated within the Catholic school system. The effect of this, outside of the fact I know the Hail Mary off by heart, is I have the ability to feel guilty about anything. Not only that, most Christian faiths, like Catholicism, puts forward the notion of an all seeing God. I don’t buy into this notion but what it means is that I don’t necessarily need someone to perceive my laziness to know others must think me lazy. People intuit the fact I haven’t done the dishes in two days. When you have an innate pressure to be ‘useful’, to keep busy and a mechanism that makes one feel guilty for not doing so, the notion of laziness becomes hyperbolic.

Going back to my original statement that my generation is seen as lazy, I’ve concluded that this is not necessarily the case. Whether this is an excuse to suppress my own sense of laziness is a matter of opinion but I believe that my generation is productive in different ways. Areas like design, technology, writing etc. often fall under creative pursuits and not under the traditional idea of ‘hard-work’. In the digital age not only have new careers opened up but things have been made a lot easier. Most things are done online, there are fridges that go grocery shopping for you and robotic vacuum cleaners. Although it is easy to say these innovations have made us lazy the impetus behind their creation I think is more aligned with productivity rather than idleness. By this I’m suggesting that by technology freeing us up from banal tasks its gives us more time to work or raise mini-workers. What I actually think is under interrogation when the label of laziness is applied is the values that supposedly come from its binary ‘hard-work’. One of these values I believe is appreciation. Appreciating the toil put in to allow you to pour milk on your cereal every morning, your parents efforts to get you a new pair of school shoes and the manpower behind public transport getting you to work on time. I believe there is some truth to the assertion my generation may not truly appreciate this. One thing I think that is stemming total disconnection from the effort put into the things we benefit from is the eco-movement. As we become more concerned with the state of the environment, animal welfare, farming practices, waste build up and the type of world we want for our children, our disconnect from production to consumption is closing. The other day I went to throw out half a slightly brown avocado. Before I did I stopped for a second and thought about how this avocado had gotten to me. The labour that had gone into the land to cultivate the avocado, the resources to help it grow, the energy the workers had put into picking it, its journey to the grocer, my exchange of funds to own it and now I was going to throw it out. Although I was viewing it through the prism of waste and ecology it still fits into the appreciation of work.

In essence I think what it means to be lazy and inversely what is ‘hard-work’ has shifted. My generation’s appreciation for ‘hard-work’ may have decreased but I believe it’s experiencing resurgence. And I will continue to tell myself so in order to finish this season of Games of Thrones without feeling the need to self-flagellate.

You Can Change my Beer but You Can’t Change the Way I Drink it

Drinking beer is an Australian past-time par excellence. Drinking beer coincides with major sporting events, ANZAC day, the weekend and a boy’s transition into manhood. What beer you drink, how you drink it, how quickly you show signs of intoxication and how you comport yourself when intoxicated, all speak of your character in Australian culture. But beer has slowly been changing in many parts of Australia. I myself favour different beers for different occasions. In winter I like dark ales and in summer a pilsner. At parties I might take an obscure craft beer to showcase how cool I am or if I’m on a budget I’ll happily drink draught. When I’m back in my home town of Launceston I drink Boags and when I’m in Hobart I drink water. Recently I’ve noticed a change in beer flavour and culture. Maybe I’m paranoid but I believe many beers have become more complex in their palate and I more often detect fruity and floral bouquets.  Drinking dark ale the other day I was puzzled by the hints of lycee and almond which I wasn’t expecting, nor was I expecting my ability to identify it. Sometime after this I went to a bar with friends and started to discuss with the barman what beer he had on offer. I expressed my desire for a beer that didn’t encompass aforementioned complexity. The bartender assented to the request and went on to say that this recent trend was a marketing ploy to open up a market to female and Asian drinkers. Whether this is true or not I’m unsure. But harping back to my previous point this notion was meant to say something of those drinkers, and by including them the makeup of the beer was being compromised.

Sometime ago I went to have a beer with a friend on St. Kilda road. The place was rather palatial with an accommodating beer garden with established conifer trees. The staff were well spoken and breezed around with lily white aprons that would have been able to stand on their own accord. To a normal pub goer it was a spectacle. I went to the bar and was mesmerised by the way the beer was served. First a ballooned glass with a short, stout stem was procured from the shelf and washed. The washing was achieved by the glass rim depressing a star made of copper that shot a jet of water inside the glass. This was uncannily reminiscent of a bidet.   The beer was poured into the glass at the appropriate angle and gently rotated as the bar tender looked away from the glass to confirm his competency. The excess head was dismissed with an icing spatula and then the glass was baptised in a pool of water to remove any beer external to the glass. I was awoken from my hypnosis when I was offered to sample some of the beers. A free tasting? Why not. As I contemplated my choice I noticed another man tasting. What caught my attention was the fact this person was holding the glass at its stem and sniffing the beer. I forgot where I was momentarily and waited for the man to reach for the spittoon. I couldn’t help but cringe. I didn’t want beer to be treated like that. Egalitarianism being the centrepiece of Australian culture I saw beer as something of an equalising force. I thought this sniffing business reeked of snobbery and I felt alarmed to think that beer could be used as a tool to pretentiously put one above another. I should say here that I am someone that does enjoy how beer has diversified and the subsequent refinement of craftsmanship. Having heard the beer I first started drinking at the late age of 9 had been bought by a Japanese company, it’s nice to see the prominence of microbreweries.

If beer speaks as I’ve suggested, what I hear is that Australian culture is changing. I don’t think it’s anything new or unheard of but I think parts of Australia, especially big cities are striving more and more toward a cosmopolitan image, and further away from the image of Paul Hogan or Bob Hawke. Along with our identity changing so has the make-up of our beer and the way we drink it. I don’t particularly think this a bad thing but could I just say; when you get your beer, just drink it.

Working Whilst Studying: Should I Appeal for my Inheritance?

It has become a rite of passage for most Australian students to occupy a part-time job whilst studying. It is a necessary evil in most cases, providing a minor relief to a diet of instant noodles and cask wine.   Often engaged in with a palpable level of disdain and loathing, the working student has more to be thankful for than staying slightly above the poverty line.

For the people who work in these jobs –whether they be in hospitality, call centre work or retail- and treat them as a viable career path or chance for management experience, student workers must be a thorn in the side. I’ve been told and admittedly have noticed myself do this, that student workers often have a flippant, if not arrogant attitude toward their paid work. For some time I had fostered a slight victim mentality in relation to my servitude to work. The jobs I were doing I had minimal interest in and I saw them as detracting from my chosen academic path, which was guaranteed to make me a household name.   No doubt this attitude was as discrete as a deaf person farting for those who enjoyed the job and saw themselves in high positions. Whether it’s imagined or not I had a few interactions (mainly with management) that gave me the impression that they thought my gaze emanated from the end of my nose, due to my enrolment at university. I would like to think that this is not how I conduct myself but you must refer to my previous colleagues. On multiple occasions I have wondered though how someone can work more than one year in a call centre; Marx must have some opinion on it. These people must have enormous debt, are in witness protection, don’t have a soul or have seven kids. What is to come of spending ones working life like this? Surely spending years doing a degree in fine arts or social science is more appealing? Isn’t it better to know what Foucault said about the corporate hierarchy than participate in it?

When I embarked on my fourth year of study I was working. As my studying pressed down on me with more and more pressure with the year progressing, I found myself bringing my stress to work. My 23 hour working week soon became the only thing holding me back from finishing the chapters of my thesis to perfection. I decided to leave my job to focus on my study. Strangely my study productivity didn’t pick up. Having full days to study to myself for the first time wasn’t quite as idyllic as I’d imagined. I found I had more time to study the fine art of procrastination. What I came to realise was that my part-time job had played a greater role than mere cash flow. It was a matter of structure.

Many students are in a position to bypass casual work altogether. They are able to earn their degree and jump straight into their chosen field of study. Strangely enough I feel I have a good sense of who these people are. These are the people who want to split their restaurant bill with 5 credit cards, ask to speak to your manager when you don’t waive the fees on their account and ask for refunds on sales items. Having never had a job that delivers insight into the frustration of such wishes, they simply sigh at your ineptness in the face of the simplicity of their request. They don’t get to experience the joy of trying to sell your concert tickets at last minute to oblige the bosses request to work Saturday so you can put a bit more away for your car rego. Nor have had to come home at 5am from a bar shift to sleep for 3 hours before the mornings lecture.

Having to work through Uni isn’t a badge of honour, its standard practise. The point I’m trying to make is that the rewards go beyond monetary compensation. It gives your structure and a sense of urgency to finish that upcoming essay. It makes you skilful in areas outside of your field of study and to never click your fingers to get the attention of a waiter.