I spent a weekend on the river recently, working on some basic skills that I hope will one day allow me to start checking off some of the rivers on my bucket list.
I started whitewater kayaking last summer, trying to bring a long-standing dream to reality. I had some success and a lot of fun. I made some new friends. I saw some amazing sights.
But I wasn't consistent. I didn't practice. I lost some of the basics I had learned last year.
So it was back to the Hiwassee River for a weekend of instruction by a whitewater paddling club. They placed us in classes based on our experiences. I probably sounded like I was a bit more advanced than I truly am. Thankfully, the instructor decided we needed to work on the nuts and bolts of paddling.
After a Saturday working on various skills, we put in at the top of the Hiwassee near the powerhouse, about five miles from Reliance, TN.
One of the cornerstones of this course was safety and understanding your limits. Challenge by choice was the rule of the day. The instructor and support team offered suggestions to help build skills, but we could always say, "I don't think I'm ready for that."
And if we got in over our heads — literally or figuratively — help was close by.
One of the rescue maneuvers is called a buddy rescue. It works when another boat is nearby. While you're upside down, you bang your arms on the side of the kayak. Another boat will then T-bone you with the bow of their kayak. You then grab hold of the bow, get your head above water and snap your hips to right your boat.
With luck, someone has also caught your paddle. Because you don't want to be up the creek without a paddle. There's a reason that saying exists.
You'd think asking for help like this would be easy. Unless you know how to roll your kayak back up on your own, something I haven't gotten the hang of — yet — your other options are to swim out or stay under. Swimming also means asking for help. Someone has to get your boat and your paddle. You've got to get somewhere you can empty the water out and climb back in before the trip can continue.
The other option is to stay upside down. That’s not a good option.
The choice is pretty clear-cut on the river. But in our daily lives, when the stakes don't feel quite so life-and-death, many of us choose to stay upside down rather than ask for help.
About 61% of Americans report feeling stress related to work, according to the American Institute of Stress.
First of all, stress is a big enough problem that we have a national institute devoted to studying stress, its causes, effects and possible remedies. Stress can lead to fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, stomach problems, chest pains — the list goes on. It also can cause irritability, anger, anxiety, depression, and spur unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, or overeating.
Stress doesn't always mean something bad. It can helps us to do more than we thought we could do, upping our productivity.
But when those demands so far exceed our time, ability or resources, the feeling can be less exhilarating and more paralyzing.
Think about your to-do list. How many items do you have listed?
Sometimes, I look at my list and want to hide under my desk. "How can I possibly get all of this done?" The panic creeps in, and I end up in a tailspin. I can't get anything done. The work is swirling and swirling, and I am in danger of capsizing.
But just like when you go under on the river, there's a solution.
Ask for help.
You have to be a part of your rescue. You can't just throw up your hands and expect others to pick up all the load. You still have to get in there and do your part, but there is no shame in saying, "I'm overwhelmed. Help me."
And, when the time comes your rescuers need your help, offer them a hand.
It doesn't do away with all the stress our lives throw at us on a regular basis. But it does help make it more manageable. And sometimes, that's what makes the difference between a miserable day and a great day.