On the Subject of Baths

I commented in my last blog (https://megkingston.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/a-long-short-week/) that I was running a bath when a friend phoned. I should mention that this isn’t unusual – I often take a bath during the day and will answer the phone if it rings while I’m in there.

After all, Churchill used to hold meetings while he was in the bath. And if it’s good enough for Winnie, it’s fine by me. At least you can’t see me over the phone!

Baths are not simply a way to get clean – a bath is a refuge from the world, a place where I can relax and enjoy a book in peace. Depending on the weather, it’s a way for me to get warm after being out in the cold or to cool myself down when I’m overheated. It’s a way to scrub myself clean after hospital visits or just soak away everyday dust. It’s the place I wash my waist-length hair and it’s a legitimate excuse to ignore the doorbell.

A shower really isn’t the same. There’s no relaxing in a shower, no time to enjoy a soak – it just doesn’t cut it for me. I know the water-saving Nazis claim a shower uses less water, but I’m not convinced – it takes more than their regulation four minutes to rinse out my hair. And sitting on a chair is no fun in the wet when you can’t stand up to shower. And I share my bath water as Hubby generally follows me in.

Reading in the bath takes a little skill that’s worth practicing. I can hold a book in my left hand and turn a page with the thumb – all one-handed. Nowadays, I might be reading something on the Kindle – in its waterproof cover, of course. Or if my eyes are playing up, I can plug my MP3 player into an egg-shaped gadget that transmits an audio book over the airwaves to a yellow duck-shaped speaker in the bathroom. No mains electricity near my bath!

There are even animals that enjoy a good bath. Anyone who’s watched sparrows splashing in their garden will have noticed they spend far more time abluting than strictly necessary for cleanliness. And a horse crossing a river or walking into the sea. Although macaques in the hot springs of Japan are probably the nearest to human bathophiles.

I do love my bath. And I’ll continue to spend an hour there with a book and to answer the phone if you’re foolish enough to ring when I’m soaking.

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A Meditation on Modern Life and Stress

Homo Sapiens is, as far as we know, the only species to ever devise ways to abuse our bodies’ natural stress-responses. We are animals that have chosen to increase our stress-levels in unnatural and prolonged ways.

Our bodies are programmed to cope with stress on a short-term basis in ways that keep us alive. The various parts that make up our brains and physicals selves react to three different phases of a stressful situation.

Firstly, there’s the surprise element, then there’s the anticipation and finally there’s the denouement. So, our primitive ancestors would experience the fear when they think they’ve seen something large and stripey in the undergrowth, followed by a heightened sense of awareness while they freeze to the spot and try to see the shape lurking in the bushes, and finally the famous fight-or-flight response as the branches part and a tiger launches itself across the clearing.

Whereas modern man (and woman) faces different cues. Let’s saying your employer announces there will be redundancies (surprise) and you endure weeks of paranoia while your manager refuses to tell you you’re safe, your colleagues avoid meeting your eyes and personnel email to say they need to meet with you (anticipation). Then it’s almost a relief when the day of your personnel meeting arrives and you walk in to find your boss is there, too…

It’s not just the event itself that causes stress, it’s all the anxiety leading up to it – and lots of worrying about events that may never even be on the cards. We deliberately put ourselves into situations that are inherently stressful. But what may be fun for a fairground ride isn’t so enjoyable in a long-term situation. Whether it’s a difficult working situation or an increasingly-intolerable home life, many people have long-term stress in their lives and suffer the consequences. We are animals that can tolerate short spells of panic and fear, but the system becomes self-damaging if the stress becomes long-term or paranoia.

Now, I’m no expert on human biology, but I can understand how changes that are meant to last a short time can wreak havoc over a period of weeks and months. Our bodies react to fear by closing down non-essential functions so as to prepare to fight for our lives or run to the hills. But over the long term, this means that the digestion and immune systems aren’t being allowed to function properly and people develop gastric problems and succumb to every little germ drifting around the office.

The key to defeating stress lies at the heart of its bodily roots. Those three elements of surprise – anticipation – denouement are the killers. Most of us aren’t in a position to avoid the first or the last, but the anticipation is something we may be able to address. In a heightened state of fear or stress, we are biologically primed to see the negative, we automatically look for the next bad sign, whether it exists or not. A person in a long-term stressful situation is in highest need of some positive thinking but is rendered almost incapable of doing so, by their own physical responses to stress.

But even a basic awareness of the inherent dangers in anticipation can be enough to help.

Think about it