When life turns up the heat, do you expand or contract?

As a citizen of earthquake country, over a lifetime of shaky moments I have picked up on a few geological terms.

Take “mechanical weathering,” for example.

In the simplest of terms, mechanical weathering takes place when rocks are essentially torn apart by physical force, rather than by chemical breakdown.


Tectonic forces, such as earthquakes, break and shatter rocks in the earth’s crust.

Temperature changes also effect mechanical weathering through slight expansion and contraction, weakening the rock itself.


I think there’s a lot more to it than these simple examples, but the term “mechanical weathering” comes to mind when I think about my personal stress levels. I think we expand and contract, depending on life circumstances, an unlimited number of times under stressful circumstances.

But don’t we all want to minimize our earthquakes?

I will admit that pressures have been a little high as I’ve been adjusting my schedule to accommodate the unexpected and the overflowing.

We’ve had a couple of family hospitalizations–nothing dreadful–just those things that come along and need addressing. When that’s the highest priority, I think I brace myself, contracting just a wee bit.

There are happy times, too. Anticipation of babies joining the family, anniversary celebrations and birthday parties. The calendar feels overloaded, with good things, mind you, but times of expansion are a different form of stress. Our neurons don’t always differentiate the positive from negative.

Perhaps I don’t  experience ACTUAL mechanical weathering, but to be certain, we can allow stress to build up, making an earthquake inevitable.

So what to do?

Don’t do…just be.

Let’s do a reverse energy flow, avoiding those fissures and cracks, if possible, focusing on what brings down those earthquake producing high stress-induced cortisol levels.

I didn’t have the attention span to follow-up on my last post and give the low-down on when John Muir spent time in Pasadena. For those of you who share my love of Muir and other American naturalists, I’m in a reading frenzy. I’ll be back to that very soon.

Instead, wherever I can find them, I’m taking little mental vacations. A few minutes with our workplace turtles, and anxiety lifts off my shoulders. You just have to change your focus. It’s another little law of nature!

Tell me now…do they look stressed?

Earthquake avoided.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir

60 thoughts on “When life turns up the heat, do you expand or contract?

  1. I’ve lived in a city where everyone is waiting for ‘the next big one’. It never happened in my 10 years there but everyone who dwells there knows it could be any day. I guess that’s how it is for you too. I agree with you that you need to take little ‘mental vacations’. I love the image of Darwin – now he doesn’t look troubled at all! xx

    1. Those are water turtles from work, Charlie. Darwin could eat them in one big bite, I think. LOL! But the one was out of the water, which I rarely see. We do have such similar climates and conditions–I didn’t know that you had all the big earthquake talk, too! Interesting. I’ve lived through a couple of big ones, but not THE big one they talk about. It’s not fun conversation, is it! oxo

    1. I think the backyard railway is our only sure bet to survive a big earthquake, Jim. And it will be a great focal point if we find ourselves living in a tent! (Believe it or not, we’ve had this discussion!).

  2. Some years ago a friend gave me a book about reducing stress levels and one thing stuck – which I did for many years: take a tiny detour on the way to work to incorporate some beauty and colour. In my case that meant taking a right turn and walking through a mini public garden – not even an extra minute on my journey but it really lifted my spirits and set me off on a good start to the day! I think your turtles are an excellent example of how to take life as it comes and let it just wash over you for a few minutes a day. Wishing you a stress-free week Debra!

    1. What wonderful advice to receive from your friend, Cathy. That’s an outstanding idea. I think my turtles at work must be a version of that same shift in attention that does a quick stress release. We really can access that same kind of natural “oasis” routinely if we tune in. This morning as I left the house very early I could hear a hawk in a tree, and just saying a quick hello to him brought me into the best early morning frame of mind. 🙂 ox

  3. I love this post… I’ve always maintained in my own case that with heat one expands, so my size is only because I’m hot…
    I love the turtles and we should all take a lesson from nature… there comes a time when it is so necessary to sit back and take that break… it can save lives, ask the animals, they rest and are always ready with that burst of energy to make an escape from danger….

    1. Ha! I love your comment about heat expanding and the logical conclusion that you are hot! Of course, Rob! 🙂 Nature does save lives…I believe that, too. I don’t know how I could be at home in my urban environment if I didn’t know where to go, and how to access the places where I can get close to nature. I have to work at it, that’s for certain, but it’s critical to my well-being. I hope you’re doing well, my friend. Thank you for taking the time in your “break” to stop in. 🙂

  4. tempting ideas Debra, mechanical stress … it can cause trouble … from a yoga teacher’s point of view! What do you do with turtles at work? research? Breaks are crucial, especially when stress builds from all those changes that life keeps producing for us 😀 Google does not allow people to accrue their holidays, they have to take them …. we all need breaks … I go and sit out by those lotus plants!

    1. I spent the day at the hospital, Christine, and did as much “chair yoga” as I could do without being a nuisance to those around me! LOL! It was helpful. The turtles are simply residents of one of the university water gardens. I share them every now and then…in contrast to our giant tortoise. 🙂 I first shared about the turtles when I discovered them on a walk, and the joke was that I’d worked at the university for more than a decade and had never stumbled across them. I was stunned that none of my workplace friends, knowing how goofy I am about turtles and tortoises, had told me they existed. Now I visit them at least once a week. No lotus in those ponds, but I have a pretty one in my backyard small pond. It’s completely dormant right now! I know you have a wonderful relationship with the greater outdoors! Perfect stress relief. 🙂

  5. I like ‘quiet’ when I’m stressed. It’s amazing how difficult ‘quiet’ is to come by. But when I feel I’m about to break, fortunately I recognize it and at least remove myself from the ‘noise’ of whatever that stress is.

    1. Colleen, I completely agree with you about noise! It’s absolutely everywhere, isn’t it? I work very hard to cultivate quiet when I need it, but it comes at a premium. And it is rare. I think it’s very probable that much of our stress accumulates simply because we don’t find the quiet contemplation we need! ox

  6. Here in Vancouver, Canada, the BIG one always like the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. But we go on, some wise enough to stash some extra water and food, just in case…most oblivious to the inevitable but always far distant…we weather our lives beautifully, if blindly…ask the turtles…

    1. It sounds to me like you’ve managed to find a great deal of balance in your life, John, and perhaps you’ve figured out how to manage to eliminate the artificial dramas that seem to upset the balances. I live in the land of drama, you know. 🙂 I have to work hard to leave some of that behind…I think Vancouver is beautifully distanced from all that nonsense. 🙂

  7. Given those are work turtles and Darwin’s appetite, good reason not to participate in Take Your Pet to Work Day!

    Back to the topic at hand, good analogies relating weathering and other natural processes to personal stress. Life balance is one important way to control stress. Another way is to minimize the artificial highs and the lows because life has enough ups and downs. For instance, someone says they hate when it rains, I say tell it to stop … response: But it won’t do any good … my response; Correct, then why worry about it or let it affect you.

    Another example: TGIF sets one up for OCIM …. Oh Crap It’s Monday. I could go on, but won’t. 🙂

    1. Oh but you gave me a laugh, Frank! The picture that came to my mind of bringing Darwin to work is just too funny! He would be huge compared to those little pond turtles! I really enjoyed your thoughts on topic, and think you’ve definitely hit upon one very key element in managing stress. Sometimes we land on “no more drama” as the shorthand for commenting on artificial highs and lows, but I think sometimes people don’t even realize that their “drama” is indeed artificial. It’s habit. I really do appreciate you chiming in! Points very well made!

      1. Glad the thought of taking Darwin to work brought a laugh! … He would be a big hit at the office and would love to roam the grounds. Meanwhile, my comments sparked an idea for a post, but the problem is I don’t know when I will get a chance to write! … Meanwhile, more snow for us this weekend!

    1. I have found that even hospitals today go out of their way to create some beautiful and peaceful retreat and quiet spots. It’s impressive to me that they are beginning to connect environment with healing space! 🙂

  8. Turtle watching. One of my favorite things to do, Debra. It’s almost as relaxing as watching fish swim.

    I hope all is well with the people who’ve been hospitalized now. You’ve all been in my thoughts these last few days.

    1. Thank you, Andra. This week it’s been my dad, but he’s doing well. And I’m doing lots of sitting at the hospital. I wish I did better with reading and responding to blogposts using my iPhone. That darned autocorrect scares me. I’ve written a few doozies! Lol!

      Aren’t the turtles delightful? I so enjoy visiting them. They have personality! ox

  9. Just what the doctor ordered for my own “mechanical weathering”, Debra – and I’ll be thinking about this as I maneuver around all the pot holes in the roads hereabouts, caused by the extreme temperatures. tee hee
    I’ve been purposefully taking the time to sip something warm and comforting each day, reading a book or magazine, turning off any “noise”. Sometimes, I just “be” for a bit. After reading this, I’m daydreaming of spring, a walk in the woods, and seeing the turtles come out to sun.

    Wonderful post. I hope those with hospitalizations are doing better and home soon.

    1. I’m very glad to hear you’re taking care to build I’m some down time for yourself, Penny. I think each of us just must prioritize a place of calm. I am having some trouble keeping up with all my dear blogging friends. Reading from my phone only goes so far! Lol!

      We didn’t know what was wrong with my dad for a few days, but it’s looking a little less complicated than what we feared. He appears to have a severely torn tendon in his leg. No wonder he had so much pain, poor guy. For some reason this was hard to diagnose. Because of other complications he can’t have an MRI.

      I’ve been doing LOTS of sitting and I think that has been just fine with me! Thank you! And very little noise! ox

  10. Tom McCubbin

    Some nice thoughts for the day. That’s why we need nature close by us and need to preserve it for future generations as well.

    Have you read Edwin Way Teale? Another great naturalist who bought a farm and wrote abopt his experiences living on it as he let it grown into a nature preserve…Wonderful stuff…

    1. Oh goody! Thank you, Tom. I’m not at all familiar with Edwin Way Teale. I’m eager to investigate. Each one of these special people has a particular interest and I always learn something from them. And I am so agreeing with you about preserving natural and open space for future generations. It’s critical.

  11. A perfectly worded and timed post for me, Debra! Just perfect timing…in many ways. And what a geological refresher it was. I had forgotten all of that “stuff”. 🙂 How is Darwin? And I hope your family members also weather the storm, so to speak…

    1. Thank you so much, Koji. We are getting along ok, but when older people have any time in the hospital even very simple things need extra attention. I am attentive to what I can do each day and no running ahead!! The turtles are my reminder. I hope they can help you in that same way. Darwin is confused with this weather! Lol! Truly. He can’t decide if he should burrow or get out and graze. I will tell him you asked after him. Thank you!

    1. The water turtles are so fun for me to watch. Sometimes the young ones hop on the back of the adults and just go for a ride. I’m glad you could see how they function as excellent stress busters, Nancy.

  12. dandyknife

    I can be all riled up about one thing or another, and then a chickadee or a few goldfinches will arrive at the bird feeder, and my shoulders drop back down to where shoulders should be, and my jaw relaxes; so I think I’ve got a sense how you respond to the pond turtles. I’m glad they’re there when you need them.

    1. That’s exactly right! I don’t know precisely how it works, but it does! 🙂 Maybe it’s the simplicity of these little creatures that immediately calms me. I look forward to spring when the birds all return to their feeders. It’s been interesting to me that although we don’t have snow to cover the ground and the feeders are still kept full, the birds have almost disappeared. They are just now starting to show a little interest. Nature is abundant, even here in a very densely populated area. It’s wonderful to take notice, isn’t it? 🙂

  13. Great post Debra. Life in America is way too stressful, so we have to find ways to manage.I feel blessed to have made it to retirement and beyond and to have found a place that is nurturing and calming and one that I have no desire to leave. So glad I traveled when I was young!

  14. Debra, I’m just getting to this now and finding it very timely 🙂 I spent the week being brain fogged, anxious and stressed. a really bad combination because I couldn’t do anything useful and didn’t have the mental energy to realise that I’d be better off just resting rather than keeping trying and failing. I must learn to think turtles 🙂
    All best wished to you and yours- hanging about hospitals is very draining

  15. Mental vacations. What a lovely concept, Debra, and certainly this is the way to relax and unwind. I didn’t get my trip out to do research this week – I had to work – and I’m feeling stretched as a result, cross and contrary. Clearly, it is time to make space for some moments of vacation.
    Lovely post, thank you.

  16. The mechanical weathering by physics is very interesting. Using that study to “apply” to our stress is a good one! Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Debra! I agree, change your focus can help us balance.

  17. Debra, The pictures of turtles and all your photos are relaxing. Sometimes, taking time away to manage life’s situations decreases stress. Why pressure ourselves simply because our personality type A, instead of taking care of ourselves and the situations at hand? That’s something most of us never learned and have a difficult time doing. We keep feeling guilty if we can’t do all we plan to do. I think some of that guilt is because we also enjoy doing for others, learning, and having our life fulfilled in different ways but we don’t like to disappoint either. Now, I’m relaxing reader posts for myself because everyone has something wonderful to say, and so much to see in pictures.

    How is your dad feeling? Has he been in aquatic therapy or aquatic exercise at any time? Many physical therapists also do aquatic therapy in warm water and that may be a great way for natural healing.

    Thanks for all you do. Take care and stay safe. Edie

  18. Your post was so timely for me Debra. I have been extremely busy at work and it’s all things I’m excited about. I went to my acupuncturist for my monthly appointment and she asked if I was stressed. I said, oh probably, but it’s all good stress. She told me that your body cannot differentiate the two and that by the looks of my tongue (she checks my tongue every appointment) my body is in turmoil. She has never seen my tongue look that way. I was completely intrigued. I mean I know I have a lot going on, but it’s all exciting stuff. But like the two of you said, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate – it’s just stress. So I think perhaps I will take your advice and find little breaks throughout the day for myself. Unfortunately I don’t have any turtles handy, but I think I can find a few fun things to look at. 🙂

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  20. Dear Debra, your stress-lessening words–“Don’t do, be.”–remind me of Yoda’s words to Luke Skywalker. Something like, “Do not try; do.” So when we do, we do. And when we be, we be. As for myself, I often forget to “be” in the moment. And so I miss the joy or the sadness of a moment that will never come again.

    This past Thursday, I experienced ten hour of vertigo. During those hours I rested and said my affirmation –“And all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be exceedingly well”–and crawled off the bed to the bathroom and listened to a book on tape. After such a long episode, I’m always tired for two or three days . . . and ravenous. But I’m also left thoughtful and always I come back to living in the moment because that’s what vertigo forces a person to do. Nothing we plan or plot can make it go away. And so we live within it. And for me, the living within it always has rewards in that I discover the peace that dwells deep down within us despite the quakes. The rocks, no matter how they sliver and split, always contain their rockness. Their essence. And I hope the same can be said for all of us. Peace.

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  22. Awesome, really really awesome breathelighter advice. Don’t do… Just be. I think I saw it as don’t feel the expectations and pressure, whether you initiate plans or promises yourself or be it from others. Just let flow. At the right moments it will come by, and the process will become smoother and the outcome will become much better.

  23. Being rather than doing is really important, Debra, but much harder to achieve than many people realise. If we’re really stressed it can be hard to switch off, so your idea of regular small breaks to watch the turtles or juts let your thoughts wander aimlessly is a really good idea. Here’s to turtle-watching. 🙂

    1. I was thinking about my “turtle watching” again the other day. I believe the reason I speak of these little breaks the way I do, and perhaps why I am fascinated with just a small turtle pond, is that I absolutely have no choice but to be very deliberate in seeking out these little spots of nature. I can’t just look out any window and see something beautiful unless I make a habit of looking for it. Of course, I think this has the upside, too. Being so intentional can maximize on what is there, but I do wonder what it would be like to live in more open space with lots of green and beautiful. Thankfully, nature survives even in an urban landscape, and there’s always something to capture my attention. It works for me anyway! 🙂

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