Ever feel like you’re drowning? Being involved in a submersion accident isn’t a threat most of us face (though this spring looks to be bringing an epic runoff to western rivers), but we often feel overwhelmed and subsumed by our to-do list. Our constant states of cognitive overload, FOMO, distraction, and multitasking have completely scrambled our fight-or-flight instinct. What was once a vital impulse that kicked in if we were genuinely going under now keeps us simmering in useless stress.
These days, stress is believed to be responsible for between 40% and 90% of illnesses and physician visits. Our low tension levels no longer promote life-saving actions; they take a severe toll on our well-being. We end up worn thin and easily trammeled by the mundane. We drown in harmless, ordinary, day-to-day situations.
In his TEDx talk, Ebb and Flow: Lessons from Riding Giants, Dave Kalama shares an epic tale with an account of almost actually drowning. One of his key points is that he had to focus on one action at a time to survive. He knew that trying to assess the entire situation simultaneously would be defeating. Instead, he did one thing (like a stroke towards the surface), then the next, until he reached his goal.
Having a plan is the place to start. Adventure Education field trips and expeditions always begin by asking, “What are our priorities?” What do we need to do on any day to be successful? Instead of treating everything like a fire needing to be immediately put out, how can we organize our tasks according to when we have the energy or conditions necessary to complete them? We stress less when we have clear, little steps.
Kalama’s story starts as he contemplates a perfect day of big wave surfing at Pe’ahi but quickly changes to demonstrate how he survived by adapting to the reality of his situation. Trust in the plan, but stay present and know when to change course. Things might not follow the original vision, so be ready to adjust—no need for fight or flight when we go with the flow.
Reflection is a proven way to improve performance. Like getting to the surface and taking a breath, poke your head out of the turbulence, and spend a minute reflecting and learning from what just happened. What’s the situation, and how do we keep riding the waves? Pause and then paddle on.
Awareness of our breathing is an easy way to stay calm and focused. Ultimately, there’s little technique necessary: breathe slowly and evenly. There are a billion ways to expand on this simple practice, so try and notice how breathing brings tranquility and clarity.
Distractions conspire to confuse us; stress levels are high, and we’re left feeling like we’re being held under. Trying to solve all our problems at once is a quick way to drown. Focus on one step at a time, try these tips to stay afloat, and go with the flow!
Eli is a Lecturer of Adventure Education at FLC with expertise in mindfulness, risk management, expedition design and delivery, and tons of experience leading others in finding the inter and intrapersonal benefits of exploring wild spaces.