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Do you have a hobby or activity that relaxes you?
I'm not talking TV relax – I'm talking dissolving muscle aches and destroying headaches relax.
I'm not talking unwind or vegetate – I'm talking parasympathetic nervous system activation, slower breathing, and alpha waves.
For the past eight years, I didn't – I suffered from untreatable headaches.
Hypersomnia is a disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, extended sleep time in a 24-hour cycle, and the inability to achieve the feeling of refreshment that usually comes from sleep.
The assumption was that my hypersomnia arose from poor sleep. That assumption was wrong – the true cause was a combination of biological sensitivity and intractable stress.
It's still a problem – I can sleep for 14 hours and still not feel refreshed, naps make me feel like crap, and at almost any time of the day I can fall asleep in less than 30 seconds.
My headaches have been a virus, selfishly sapping away my life energy. They were mild enough that I could still function at a high level but constant enough that I rarely felt fully alive.
I tried acupuncture, chiropractic, trigger point release, hypnosis, deep breathing, drugs, drugs, and drugs, exercise, meditation, stretching, and much more.
None of it worked – traditional and nontraditional alike.
Five months ago, I was listening to a song that I really liked – I ended up putting it on a loop and listening to it continuously for a few hours. At first, I did what I always do when I listen to music: something else. Then, as the music started to capture my emotions, I started doing what I do when I listen to truly powerful music: I activated my imagination.
But somehow the beauty of the song fully captured my attention, and I ended up in a sort of trance. Instead of reading, working, or imagining, I was fully focused on the music. In the parlance of meditation, I was fully present. And this experience did what hundreds of hours of effort and thousands of dollars couldn't.
The more intently I focused on the music, the more I felt my headache slowly ease away.
For those of you thinking that this story is ridiculous, I encourage you to try it. Listen to some music so intently that your internal dialogue disappears. I call it music meditation. For some, it may be easy, but at least for me, is almost as difficult as breathing meditation.
The point of this story isn't that music is a magic tonic.
It's that we all need some way of truly relaxing, but that the method doesn't have to be something mystical like yoga or meditation. No doubt, in the right circumstances yoga and meditation are (and have been to me) much more effective than mindfully listening to music.
Don't agree with me? Think you're a tough man that can handle the stresses and pressures of life?
Maybe mentally you can. But you are more than your consciousness. You're also your biological body, which may be silently (or not so silently) crying out. No doubt 95%+ of you will have a healthier biological response to stress than I – you won't have IBS, muscle pains, sleep disturbances, headaches, and fatigue. But there will be something.
Our bodies were not designed for the modern world. If they were, we would have vegetable tooths instead of sweet tooths. Likewise, even if you can function at a high level, your happiness may be suffering because of the stresses of the modern world. The best part, for those high-achievers reading this, is that stress is a productivity killer. Kill your stress, and you may be able to perform at an even higher level.
Here's a simple test.
Imagine that one week ago the Dali Lama (or Pope) visited your home and absorbed and destroyed all of the stress hiding throughout your body and psyche. Imagine that this changed lasted one week, until today.
Your stress would have been completely mastered. Now imagine how you would have interacted with the people in your life.
Now open your eyes and compare that ideal against how you actually did.
See a difference?
When I go through that exercise, I see a huge gap and know that I have a lot of work to do.
What about you? Does your stress drag you down, or do you make your stress work for you?