Our high school science teacher passed out rubber bands to the class and asked us to slowly stretch them between our fingers. A little more. A little more. Each of us stopped when we knew it was about to snap. He was illustrating the concept of the elastic limit, that point where an elastic substance will either break or lose its ability to snap back.
It’s pretty easy to understand. Look at that old pair of blue dress socks or the bungee cord you still have in your camping supplies bag. They got stretched over a sustained period of time and got worn out, and every elastic material seems to have that point of no return. Even the magically elastic Stretch Armstrong reached its limit when we pulled his wingspan out to 5 feet (for the record, his left armpit gave way.)
I think people have an elastic limit too – when we are stretched out under stress. Our physical bodies may be amazing self-healing machines, but the mind is much more complicated. Your patience, emotional state and mental endurance can also be stretched to the limit, but not as easy to diagnose as knee pain.
It would be nice if the universe would only throw challenges at us one at a time, with room to recover between each one. In my experience, stress seems to come in waves, with multiple things piling up all at once. And if you are the one who takes care of everyone else first, you may reach your elastic limit before you are able to take care of yourself.
I’m not a doctor or a therapist, but I can share with you one thing I do when I realize I am being stretched. Very simply, I do something for myself. When is the last time you did one thing that gives you personal joy, without asking anyone else’s permission, and without dwelling on the guilt you usually feel for doing something so unproductive?
In fact, the more “unproductive,” the better. It could be reading that fiction book which has been staring at you from the shelf, or watching a cornball movie no one else wants to watch, or buying something you really want (not need), or flying to see an old friend in person.
If you can force yourself to do this occasionally, it will take some stress off that rubber band and help preserve your ability to return to your original shape. A little wasted time could be the most important thing you do today.