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Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By William Baker

I like that the word “stress” has multiple meanings, because they really aren’t different. “Stress” can be pressure or tension exerted on a material object. But really, the definition of stress for the mind is similar - pressure or tension exerted on a mental object. I find it a little odd how we talk about humans with the same terms a mechanic might use for a problem with a car, because unlike with a car, you can’t just open a human’s head and fish around with a wrench until the problem goes away. It’s hard to just take stress away from a human, because we’re held together by more than just nuts and bolts.

We have a natural release valve, of course. It’s odd to think how tears have evolved over the millennia of human existence. They must grant some form of advantage, something that ensured that the ability to cry evolved and stayed around. It's impossible to fathom what purpose crying could possibly serve. Although, curiously enough, it is a unique purpose, because of all of the many creatures on Earth, humans are the only animals that cry. Other animals produce tears, to lubricate their eyes, but they don’t cry. Why is that? And moreover, why are tears considered a sign of weakness, of fragility? Crying is something unique, something special. Only us humans can do it - so why do we stigmatize it so, when we ought to celebrate it?

Pressure, stress, tension - it all makes me think of a submarine, somewhere deep under the ocean. A tiny, metal, boxy thing, drifting slowly downwards under thousands of gallons of water, in complete darkness. And that pressure, that water, is pushing down on it. That water - saltwater, actually, like so many tears - is forcing that submarine into even murkier depths than the ones it now inhabits. The submarine is falling slowly - imperceptibly - slipping into nothingness. And it can’t go back up. There’s just too much water above it. And it’s stressed. The rivets on the hull are starting to strain now - soon, very soon, one will pop, and the metal will implode, and the submarine will destroy itself - sheets of metal curling inwards, crunching together as the submarine slowly balls itself up into nothing under the pressure. And the stress. And all the while the submarine can’t see what’s above it, or below it, or all around it. The water is dark, and things lurk in the dark, just out of reach of the sub’s lights - enormous things, old things, things that could tear the submarine in half with the flick of a finger. Things that could do far worse to the submarine than what the pressure is doing to it right now. So it keeps sinking into that black abyss. Into oblivion.

There is something else that makes forays into the deep, in the same way a submarine does. Only, this thing comes back. I mean whales, of course. Whales can hold their breath for around an hour and a half, usually. Some whales regularly make dives as deep as 6.5 thousand feet. The whales aren’t afraid of the pressure, or the water, or the darkness. And they know when it’s time to resurface, too. They remember to breathe.

So when you’re 4000 feet below the surface, don’t let the pressure get to you. Don’t be a submarine. Don’t implode under the pressure. Be a whale. And remember to breathe.


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