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A Valuable Anti-Stress Lesson From a Stuck Elevator


Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.


Doing Just Some Familiar Standing There

Some time ago I found myself in a stuck elevator of our apartment building staying like that for about an hour. Well, needless to say, it did feel slightly longer than that, but then, with the way I was experiencing it, I shouldn't exaggerate about it.

My initial reaction was a slight boredom, like when you are dealing with a nuisance, since I didn't know how long it might take for the technician to arrive to fix the problem.

Then it was quickly replaced with some practical reasoning which is to become the main theme of this post.

So, first came to mind gratefulness that my bladder was not in any urgent need to be emptied, which alone was enough to make me ready for an infinite test of patience. And then, there was also a gratefulness for the fact that I was alone, if anything, not sharing the situation with a hysterical or claustrophobic person.

Now, allow me to brag a little here. I just can't but not love my mind in situations like that, as it spontaneously scans through those most practical options available. In that case, it was an instant realization how I was expected to do nothing else but some standing -- exactly the way I usually do it while standing in front of my balcony window while observing the traffic below.

Indeed, the whole situation got reduced down to that standing, while there was even something like a trace of calm in that meditative gazing at the door in front of me. Of course, every so often I pressed on that red emergency button to alert the superintendent about the situation, unless he had heard it the first few times, but even that I did in a slow manner, knowing that poking on it repeatedly wouldn't make the technician come any sooner.

When my "patience-test-chamber" finally moved, and then opened, I was facing a pair of mocking eyes of a technician, as if saying: "So, how did you like it?"

Then I blurted out a question that seemed appropriate at the moment, while I also knew that it required a technical answer which I wouldn't understand anyway: "What was wrong?" -- I asked, and sure enough, it was technical. and I did not get any of it.

But then he said, as if bragging about his good knowledge about elevators: "I know, I have been fixing this elevator for years."

To which I said something that was not supposed to be nice, I guess: "For years, you say? Hmm, and you still haven't fixed it?" Shaking my head and walking away I didn't catch the expression on his face.

Well, god, put it on my bill as a mini venting for that whole hour spent in a stuck elevator. Or, just forgive and forget, as you must be doing it all the day long watching us humans.


Can't Breathe For Yesterday or Tomorrow

It always amazes me how people know so many of those household truisms, and yet never get them on their gut level enough to really use them in the praxis of living.

It certainly is the one telling that the only time when life is happening is now.

I find it so important that I could easily contend how most of other pearls of wisdom fall in its shadow. Indeed, without being present in the moment our minds are locked in a functioning mode that's not life promoting at all.

Back in 70's I read a bit about so called psycho-cybernetics, which stated that our nervous system is basically a goal-striving mechanism -- so when we feed it with thoughts and emotions belonging to our past or future, we are not getting right ideas and emotions about how to handle situations at hand.

It seems to go beyond individual mistake in handling life, also being a feature in collective consciousness, with nations, ethnicities and races judging present by the past with all grudges destined to become evergreen, or equally by an imagined future, as they are amassing weapons for a hypothetical confrontation.

It's not easy with a mindset like that to imagine the phenomenal relief coming from being present in here and now at all times.

In case of my experience in that stuck elevator, hadn't I been in that frame of mind, I would have felt quite frustrated, surely wanting to be somewhere else, because that's what mind always does when it wants to escape from the responsibility to deal with a present moment.

I could have kept pressing that alarm button, all pissed while feeling trapped, cursing the management for not taking a proper care of the elevator, and rehearsing in my mind what I was going to tell our super when I see him...maybe even organizing a petition with other tenants for a complaint at the Tenants Association.

Anything but to deal with what the real situation was.


Some Reality Therapy For Our Overdriven Nerves

How about becoming more aware of our voluntary musculature, which, when in a stressful situation, is in an unholy tandem with nerves creating an invisible havoc in the totality of our biological equilibrium from cells and beyond.

I will be shortly introducing a couple of magic questions that, when frequently asked, may reestablish a peace which we have forgotten how to produce. And they will be basically dealing with what those muscles are really doing.

What we "normally" do, is maintain a readiness for something that's not happening at all in here and now. Like, my standing in that stuck elevator was only some standing, and anything that I would have done beyond that would have been an abuse of my muscles and nerves. Standing is standing, where ever you do it, right? So why attach to that "activity" more than what it is?

Believe it or not, but most of the folks are not really relaxing their voluntary muscles even while they sleep. I know one who talks in his sleep, and there are many who are wrestling with the bedding, turning and tossing around all the night long. Someone told me about their falling off the bed.

Of course, the majority of others have not reached such extremes, and yet, their muscles are just tense enough so that when they wake up, they don't really feel all rested.

Think of all those who are not "morning persons", and they prefer to be left alone for a while, until their all defense mechanisms kick in to make them ready for facing the world. Their nerves and muscles are constantly in a state of tension, so they can't mobilize their "everyday self" for the lack of a restful sleep.

So, why not pay a little more attention to the state of our voluntary muscles. As we are watering our houseplants, what other muscles are in use than are necessary for it? Is our forehead frowning, our jaws tight, our shoulders raised high, our chest muscles tight and not allowing easy breathing?

Why not relax all those muscle not in use, while living in that moment which doesn't require their use.


Two Life-Saving Questions For Maintaining Our Peace

Now, here we come to those two questions announced earlier. I called them "magic", but don't expect some "abracadabra" effects without properly processing them. Like any other piece of wisdom in existence, it's not enough "to be intellectually familiar" with their meaning -- they have to be experienced on gut level, and used often enough.

They are also quite simple.

So here they are:

1) Is there any real sign of a threat around me in here and now?

2) Does the situation involve doing anything that I haven't done before?

Right away we have to be clear about one important point referring to both questions.

Namely, they don't include anything that we might make of situation "beyond" the physical appearances.

There are people who faint at time of saying their wedding vows. They are so tense that their stiff diaphragm is not allowing enough breathing to send some oxygen to their brain.

That's an example of creating more of the situation than it really is. Like I said, I could have done it to myself in that elevator, going into a state of total panic and rage.

So, let's see what makes the first question so significant. We have to prevent the activation of our fight/flight mechanism which is infamous for its being trigger-happy, while it interprets even some innocent situations as threatening.

When we were kids, and we would get spooked by the dark, our parents would gently show us how there was nothing around to be scared of.

Something similar we have to remind ourselves about, while unconsciously being over-tense grownups, and that first question will do it. Being aware that there is no threat from that furniture and houseplants, and nobody is after our precious ass as we are watching TV -- helps enormously.

After some time of repeatedly using that question, we make it a habit of interpreting our surroundings for what they are. We are sending a positive feedback to our guts not to get excited needlessly.

I know, it's even a sort of crazy that we would have to do it -- because we think how it's "obvious" that our furniture is not plotting an "attack" -- but unfortunately, our autonomic nervous system doesn't have our reasoning power, and we have to "remind it" that we are safe.

Just think of all crazy irrational dreams we can produce at night. It's our unconscious mind at work, and if I tell you that some over 90% of mental process -- even while we are awake -- are unconscious, that might give you an idea how good it is to remind ourselves that we are safe. It would be equivalent to waking up at night from a nightmare and telling ourselves that we are fine.

Now, the second question is dealing with actually taking the situation apart into easily doable components.

In my elevator situation that was the prominent one: What does being stuck in the elevator really mean in terms of easily doable actions? In that case, it was just some standing that I had done elsewhere countless times. To me, anything beyond that would have been overreacting which would not change the situation one bit.

You can use that question in situations like standing in the long lineups, or waiting to be invited to the office for your job interview. Indeed, by being fully aware of easily doable components the situation consists of, we can face any situation -- of course, other than the one of being chased by a bear at National Park. For that you might use some additional prayers, lol.

Indeed, by using these two questions, you can train your nervous system to operate like one of a purring cat -- and you don't even have to grow any whiskers.

I hope the wisdom behind my experience with a stuck elevator, along with these two questions, my serve you well in everyday situations which your nervous system might label as "stressful".

© 2021 Val Karas


Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 24, 2021:

Bill -- I understand what you are saying, and from my very distant memories I could also relate to it very much. But that was very early in my young years that a little bookworm and philosopher was testing his new theory how "nothing has a suchness until we give it one".

The purpose of my testing it was to remove the fear of dark that I had had in my early childhood, and which still made me very uncomfortable into my early teens.

So I went at midnight to the huge city cemetery, sat on a bench in front of someone's grave, sweating bullets of fear, until it was gone. Ending with a gut realization that -- since no "demons of darkness" killed me or drove me insane -- it would always depend on my perspective, not on the event itself how I am mentally processing it. I could have been 14 at the time.

The rest of my life till now has given me an ample proof that I was correct. While I see people responding in a certain way, I feel that almost divine sense of freedom to think and feel what I want -- and of course, I am talking about the negative crap where I get detached from the collective consciousness and impose my own choice.

And so it was during my being stuck in that elevator. I did not just compute in my mind what was the "appropriate" way to react -- but what it meant to me.

Thank you for reading, buddy, and for sharing your own look at it.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 24, 2021:

I would like to say I wouldn't worry, being stuck in an elevator, but I think that is wishful thinking on my part. There nerves would not handle being powerless in a confined space, me thinks.

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 22, 2021:

Peggy -- There is one single reason why I wouldn't want to be stuck in an elevator again. Namely, I wouldn't want my family to worry. They know me for my calm handling of any unpleasant situation -- and yet, somehow they can't dismiss my age (77) from their mind. I'm the oldest in family, but the only one not wearing glasses, being able to read the finest print on vitamin bottle, and also the only one who hasn't seen any doctors in some 15 years, never had a headache, and otherwise -- well, please stop me... and yet, they often treat me as some " fragile artifact from ancient history", I guess, that's called "love".

And that's why I wouldn't want to be stuck in an elevator again. Other than that, well, that would be "something different" to be experienced from my daily routine.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 22, 2021:

The only time I was stuck in an elevator was with my friend in Germany. Fortunately, it did not last long. I think I would be more worried if it was an elevator in a high-rise building, for obvious reasons. If the cable broke...yikes!

Val Karas (author) from Canada on May 22, 2021:

Dreamer Meg -- Thank you for reading and for a nice comment. Talking about bladders, mine is crazily trained on its own. Like, I may go around for many hours without knowing that I have to "go", but then as I am approaching my home, I have to rush not to have an "accident". The same with stomach -- I don't feel any hunger at all until the food is ready, no matter what time of the day or evening it may be.

As for sitting in a stuck elevator (O.K., I see, in Ireland it's called "lift", the same like in my native Croatia), I believe many people would sit down and wait. To me it somehow doesn't make any difference, so I just opted for not dirtying my pants (or "trousers" in Ireland, I would guess).

Have a great weekend, Meg.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on May 22, 2021:

Enjoyed reading that. I would worry about my bladder if stuck in a lift for any length of time. But rather than stand, I would sit on the floor. Many years ago, I worked in an old people's home as a student on the summer vacation. There were two floors and a lift between them. Very few of the clients could use the stairs so the lift was in use a lot of the time. It was a new home, built in the previous year but that lift was not great. It used to stick between the two floor and the door would open, showing the brick lining. Luckily most of the clients were too elderly or poor sighted to notice!

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