The up­side of quiet down­times

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Opinion - JUAN NEGRONI Juan A. Negroni, a We­ston res­i­dent, is a con­sul­tant, bilin­gual speaker and writer. His col­umn ap­pears monthly in Hearst Con­necti­cut News­pa­pers. Email him at juan­

Shortly af­ter my op­er­a­tion some 20 years ago, I learned that 30 to 40 per­cent of heart pa­tients suf­fer some form of anx­i­ety af­ter by­pass surgery. In 1997 I be­came one of those sta­tis­tics.

With no fore­warn­ing, I would in­ex­pli­ca­bly be­come anx­ious. The doc­tors had told me I was med­i­cally sound. That per­haps I should see a psy­chol­o­gist. This sur­prised me for I had al­ways felt I was Te­flon­coated, espe­cially against any men­tal short­com­ing. I was wrong. There are in­stances we’re less self­aware than we be­lieve our­selves to be.

My sud­den feel­ing of be­ing over­whelmed con­tin­ued. And so false-alarm dashes from my home to the Nor­walk Hos­pi­tal emer­gency room be­came the norm. So many trips that I be­gan boast­ing I knew my where­abouts at each turn in the road by spot­ting fa­mil­iar tree­tops through the win­dows of the am­bu­lances.

On one hos­pi­tal visit the on-duty physi­cian di­ag­nosed my dis­tress as “di­etary in­dis­cre­tion.” Who could have blamed me for overindulging dur­ing three­plus hours of en­dur­ing an­other Sun­day of the New York Jets’ fake ver­sion of foot­ball?

As much as I dis­liked the idea of speak­ing with a psy­chol­o­gist, I gave in. I ended up in a ther­apy group with eight or nine other in­di­vid­u­als. But it seemed their is­sues were dif­fer­ent from mine. Be­cause of my back­ground in hu­man re­sources, I could not hold back from of­fer­ing ad­vice. I even had a gen­tle­man from our group phone me at home ask­ing for my guid­ance about his per­sonal is­sue.

Fi­nally, the psy­chol­o­gist’s aide po­litely sug­gested I look for an­other venue. Still, I was grate­ful for the doc­tor’s ad­vice. He had me cre­ate a pos­i­tive men­tal im­age I was to con­jure up any­time I be­gan feel­ing out of sorts.

That im­agery was to be my fall­back mode, my “quiet down­time” as the psy­chol­o­gist called it. He added, “Think of some­thing that’s im­por­tant to you.” So, I would close my eyes and imag­ine wrap­ping my arms around my wife and two daugh­ters any­time I felt an odd feel­ing com­ing on.

To fur­ther help quiet me down he also rec­om­mended that I lis­ten to stress re­duc­tion record­ings. I bought many. Some re­lax­ation au­dio cas­settes sug­gested that I will my body into com­plete rest and think of noth­ing. Other record­ings called for my con­cen­trat­ing on one thought and noth­ing else.

It all melded into peace­ful and pro­duc­tive down­times. But as time went by I stopped lis­ten­ing to the record­ings. More­over, I no longer took those quiet down­time breaks once so help­ful. But I have shared with heart pa­tients and col­leagues what had worked for me in over­com­ing my mo­ments of anx­i­ety.

In 2017 I saved a col­umn from the New York Times about The Shultz Quiet hour. That col­umn added an im­por­tant per­spec­tive to my med­i­cal chal­lenges and my past quiet down­times. Re­cently I found my favorite re­lax­ation au­dio cas­sette. A We­ston school teacher had com­piled it for me. It re­minded me of the Shultz Quiet Hour col­umn, which I reread.

The col­umn is not about heart pa­tients over­com­ing anx­i­ety. It’s about Ge­orge Shultz, a for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State, while in of­fice tak­ing 60 min­utes off each week, to think and re­flect. He felt it made him more pro­duc­tive. He would not al­low any in­ter­rup­tions from his staff dur­ing that quiet hour. Un­less it was a call from his wife or the Pres­i­dent.

As I re­call af­ter my quadru­ple by­pass, time-out ex­er­cises be­came a daily rou­tine. They seemed sim­i­lar to Ge­orge Shultz’s weekly quiet hour re­treats. I be­gan won­der­ing what oth­ers did to ease the strain of their daily lives. As ex­pected, the in­ter­net was filled with op­tions.

For be­ing more pro­duc­tive there were many. They ranged from un­bur­den­ing one­self of dis­trac­tions by go­ing into tem­po­rary seclu­sion as Ge­orge Shultz did, to ban­ning smart phones for fear of peek­ing at them if they were in eye­sight.

And still oth­ers were about learn­ing to cope bet­ter with ev­ery­day life by carv­ing out mo­ments for pure think­ing. The pos­si­bil­i­ties were end­less.

In ret­ro­spect, I must thank David Leon­hardt, the New York Times writer, for that col­umn ti­tled “You’re too busy. You need a Shultz hour.” That col­umn has proven to be an im­por­tant re­minder for me. With­out it this ar­ti­cle would never have been writ­ten.

Mark Twain said it best. “We can­not re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing. We’re not that smart. We have to be re­minded.”

I have re­sumed my “quiet down­times.”

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