If you are under a lot of stress, does it ever seem like so many things are coming at you at once, that you feel all tied up and unable to move? Maybe you even lapse into depression as the only way to escape. Finding ways to untangle yourself from a few of life’s demands, as well as the demands we place on ourselves, can do a lot to help you relax, feel less constricted, and have room to breathe.
The other day I was listening to one of my favorite pieces of music, “Before Barbed Wire,” by Montana born pianist and composer Philip Aaberg. The melody evokes the openness and freedom of the American plains, before we started putting fences everywhere. A time when horses and wildlife ran free.
Even though the western U.S. still contains vast areas of unpopulated countryside, there are almost no highways that are not bordered by fences, unless you are lucky enough to know of a few back roads labeled “open range.”
Now you might wonder what open range has to do with stress and depression, but I bring it up because of how having too many boundaries makes us feel. Open range country may look pretty much the same as any other empty landscape, but going there feels entirely different. The feeling of freedom is almost visceral, just knowing you could stand in one spot and go in absolutely any direction you choose. And when we are overburdened with stress, and feeling there is no way out, that is exactly the feeling we need.
Some boundaries, of course, are useful and even necessary. We need boundaries for our personal space, and limits on how much we are willing to do to meet someone else’s demands on our time and energy. But when those external demands place restrictions on what we can do, or think, where we can go, or how much time we can call our own, we experience internal stress from wanting to push beyond our limitations, and the frustration of being unable to choose for ourselves.
What are some of these boundaries?
- Believing we are not good enough to achieve our dreams. These kinds of boundaries begin to be built while we are still young children. Adults tell us we are not smart enough, not attractive enough, or not athletic enough to follow a life path that calls us. So we settle for an alternative that may be okay, but leaves us always feeling constricted. We become easy targets for depression as we begin to think we are not good for much at all.
- Expectations of what we must do. Some of us may be born into families that have our lives planned out before we can even walk. We are expected to attain certain levels of academic achievement. We are expected to get into the right schools, get the right credentials or join a family firm. We may be expected to get married, or have children, and if we do, to raise them in a certain way.
- Endlessly trying to prove ourselves. While this may not seem like a boundary, every time we take on more than we can handle, so we won’t disappoint someone else, it’s like wrapping another piece of barbed wire around our souls. We know we are more than this person we’re becoming, but we can’t break out of everyone else’s demands.
- Believing life is stacked against us. This a boundary we put there ourselves. What we believe really does become our reality, and if we believe that trying anything is pointless, then we give up before we get started. We may even give into depression, because we’ve convinced ourselves that getting better will never happen for us.
Change is possible, if we move our boundaries one at a time.
Find some mental “open range” with meditation. Taking the time to open up your mind and relax, can help you begin to breathe more freely. You begin to slow down your heart rate, and feel a little less trapped. Then you can also think more clearly and see where you should go.
Take stock of your own barbed wire, and choose one piece to move. You might decide to try something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time. See what you can drop from your busy schedule, or practice saying “no” to more outside requests. Move moments of freedom to the top of your priority list. Then snip another piece of wire.
You don’t have to remove all the hassles in your life to reduce a great deal of stress you feel. A little here, a little there. Just room enough to stretch and breathe. Room to take in more beauty. Room to choose your own path. You can do this. The universe is vast and wonderful. You don’t have to be boxed in by fences and limitations. You can be whoever you want to be.
“Before Barbed Wire,” by Philip Aaberg, from Out of The Frame, (1988), Windham Hill Records.
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