How can I subject myself to acute stress?
August 28, 2007 5:15 PM   Subscribe

How can I expose myself to acute stress?

I have a bad habit of tensing up my muscles when I'm stressed. To train myself to stop doing this, I bought a biofeedback machine, which tracks my muscle tension and beeps if I tense up too much. I'm looking for a setting in which I can train myself by subjecting myself to some sort of acute stress, and making sure to remain relaxed.

The situation in which I tense up the most is in conversations or public speaking. For obvious reasons, however, I can't go out in public hooked up to this machine. So, I'm looking for a way to subject myself to psychological stress in my own home. (One obvious possibility is to play high-adrenaline video games, although I'm not much of a gamer.)

Optimally, I'm looking for some activity described by the following:
-It's not harmful (obviously).
-I can do it for long periods of time (preferably hours a day).
-It doesn't get boring quickly.
-It would help if it can be a productive activity in itself (the current front-runner idea is to train myself at answering brainteaser interview questions, which would serve a second purpose of preparing me for interviews).

Any ideas?
posted by wireless to Grab Bag (40 answers total)
Go sing or do something at an open mike night.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2007

Oh, wait... in your own HOME. Durrr. I'll have to think on that, then.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:23 PM on August 28, 2007

Message board flamewars. Maybe.

Um. I don't think people tend to get much stressed outside of a social or systematic context where they have to work within certain constraints (ie. live up to certain expectations). I'm not entirely sure you can convincingly impose said constraints on your own self. Looking forward to what others come up with.
posted by Firas at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2007

Watch a tense movie. Hitchcock, for instance. "Rear Window".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:26 PM on August 28, 2007

Put all your savings out of your own reach. Make it so that, to pay rent, you have to immediately start bringing in income. Rule out easy jobs like waiting tables. Go after consulting jobs in your professional field with more responsibility than you're used to handling. Convince yourself your long-term livelihood depends on your success in these current endeavors and that everyone in your field of interest knows one another, so word about your performance will get around to everyone you'd ever like to work for.

I guarantee that your stress will go through the roof, plus you'll save a lot of money and possibly launch a successful consulting career.
posted by salvia at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

Open the curtains. Turn on loud music. Undress. Sing. Dance.

Repeat as necessary.
posted by rob511 at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

What's your tolerance for hot peppers? You could certainly inflict some stress upon yourself if you downed a few habaneros.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2007

Do you get stressed calling people on the phone? If so, you're set.
posted by MsMolly at 5:32 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Record videos to post on to youtube. Commit to posting whatever happens from the time you hit go until you stop, with no editing. You can even record videos of you answering interview feedback questions that someone asks you. Or request people send you in questions that you answer. Or whatever...the key thing is that just like public speaking, whatever you say in front of the camera is uploaded for the world to see.
posted by hindmost at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you get stressed out by making phone calls when people are listening, esp. when you think those people may make comments about what you say or correct you or criticize you in some way? I do.

So for me, a stressful situation that I could easily artificially create would be to assemble a list of businesses to call about a certain topic that doesn't require a lot of prior knowledge, while someone listens and/or (even worse!) watches me.

To get started, put together a list of businesses in a certain field who you're going to call. You can easily assemble such a list by checking out AOL's City Guide for your area. Then open up a Word document on the computer (or grab a notepad) to save the information you get. You don't necessarily even want this information, but you have to play along to get the full effect. You're going to call to get quotes on gutter cleaning, or to ask upholstery shops for an estimate on repairing a certain size pillow, or a car place to get an estimate on tire prices for your make of car.

While you're doing this, have a friend/significant other/sibling hover over you, preferably someone who's good at making sarcastic remarks and witty but caustic comments. Instruct them to make noise and guffaw and stare and generally give you a hard time while you're trying to find out this information and deal in a professional manner with the person on the other end of the line.

This. Is. Stressful.

(It's pretty much the only part of my job that I truly dislike. *sigh*)
posted by limeonaire at 5:38 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Small, randomly-issued electroshocks?
posted by evil holiday magic at 5:39 PM on August 28, 2007

Put all your savings out of your own reach. Make it so that, to pay rent, you have to immediately start bringing in income. Rule out easy jobs like waiting tables. Go after consulting jobs in your professional field with more responsibility than you're used to handling. Convince yourself your long-term livelihood depends on your success in these current endeavors and that everyone in your field of interest knows one another, so word about your performance will get around to everyone you'd ever like to work for.

Following up on my earlier comment, for bonus stress, arrange stressful life transitions at the same time (move to a new state!) and/or try to ensure that others depend on your success. For example, if you could have a baby right before embarking on this new career, that would be ideal.
posted by salvia at 5:40 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and the person giving you a hard time while you're on the phone has to do just that—give you a hard time. They can't make you laugh or anything that will help defuse the tension; it's probably better, actually, if they're just sitting there doing something like pretending to read a book, while you really know they're listening to your every word, then interjecting something sarcastic or exhaling air in a "pff" manner at things you say from time to time.)
posted by limeonaire at 5:41 PM on August 28, 2007

(Oh, and the term for this is "cold calling." I think it's almost universally recognized as a difficult thing to do—more so when you're selling something, but also more so when you're being monitored.)
posted by limeonaire at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2007

if you a) are single (or if your SO is not adverse to the idea), and b) have a webcam, why not initiate a web-cam conversation (i.e. video-chat on skype, ichat, or any other video-chat enabled platform) with someone you find incredibly attractive. there's nothing like self-consciousness to get your adrenaline flowing!

this may also work with phone-calls to people on whom you are currently crushing (at least, this would work for me. i dread phone conversations, as i come off as ridiculously awkward on the phone!).

on preview: what MsMolly and limeonaire said!
posted by numinous at 5:44 PM on August 28, 2007

Write. A story, an essay, a poem, anything. Make it something you're proud of, and make sure it's long enough for your purpose. Then stand there and watch as your friends read it.

YMMV, but that's the most stressful thing I ever encounter.
posted by darksasami at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Call your mother. YMMV.
posted by 6:1 at 6:06 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Find a friend with a colicky baby, volunteer to babysit ?
posted by iamabot at 6:13 PM on August 28, 2007

(One obvious possibility is to play high-adrenaline video games, although I'm not much of a gamer.)

For the video games, I'd suggest playing Halo on Legendary. You can't save your game at will, and you'll end up with a lot of situations where you have to get a very long sequence of actions JUST RIGHT to get past some difficult bit and to the next checkpoint. Like "I have to run out of cover, drop and snipe these two guys in the turrets before they can open fire at me, throw a grenade exactly right to catch this next guy ... " and so on for a sequence that will soon seem very long even if it's maybe only a minute. Actually, if you're not used to games, you may have to drop down the difficulty or risk it getting boringly difficult. I've only done this with Halo, don't know if Legendary on Halo 2 is the same sort of thing but it probably is.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2007

Post an FPP with an unfortunate spelling error, like, say - "They said her face could sail a thousand shits."
posted by SassHat at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding iamabot. To really get the stress to kick in, offer to babysit for a few nights in a row.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:40 PM on August 28, 2007

Plan a wedding, take up day trading, attempt to secure financing for a new home purchase with no money down.

I'd go the adopt the animals route but really, there's not much escaping from that stress if it gets to be too much, although it is terribly rewarding in a cute little fuckers kind of way.
posted by iamabot at 6:59 PM on August 28, 2007

In the long tradition of answering the question without answering the question:

I once tried biofeedback to treat my ADD. I'm not sure if it worked or not, but I was definitely able, with the biofeedback machine on, to change the way my brain behaved. I was supposed to give out more Beta ways, and with the biofeedback machine on I did.

Here's the thing, though. It sounds like you're trying to make yourself stressed, so that you can unstress with this machine that's trying to train you to be unstressed. I'm not sure whether taking a situation that is normally non-stressful, stressing it, and then using the biofeedback machine is going to work.

What I think *will* work is trying to integrate your genuinely stressful experience -- conversations and public speaking --- with the biofeedback. Which means, imagine the experiences. Imagine talking in front of a large audience, or having a conversation with someone you tend to feel stress around. Close you eyes and try to pull in the feelings you have in that moment. Feel the stress. At that point, if you do it well, your body should kick in with the shoulder tension (I think some studies have shown that thinking about a situation can trigger the same parts of the brain as experiencing it would).

I'm not a doctor, but I just feel that introducing alien stresses is not going to deal with your fundamental problem of being stressed during conversation or public speaking. The focus of the biofeedback should be to reduce your stress in specific, currently stressful situations, not just to be stressed yet have beautifully relaxed muscles. Your muscles are tensing as a result of stress, and that's the condition you need to address, not the tension on its own.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:19 PM on August 28, 2007

Oh, and of course the benefit of this, if you can do it right, is that by visualizing this stressful situation (talking in front of thousands, all of whom are your mother) and then training yourself to feel relaxed in it, you can then recall this when you enter the real stressful situation. You don't just have to rely on the power of the biofeedback, you can also benefit from positive pre-visualizations of your stressful situations.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:20 PM on August 28, 2007

I know you said you're not a gamer, but are you good at card games or anything? Some of my most intense and stressful moments have been in online tournaments. You can find plenty of regular tournaments on Yahoo Games or a million other similar sites (pogo, etc). If you get really into those, they can cause a fair amount of stress.

Also, poker might work? Having actual money riding on stuff tends to make it more stressful.

Also, I totally have the exact same issue as limeonaire. Weird!
posted by heresiarch at 7:23 PM on August 28, 2007

Do you have a mother-in-law? Cook for her.
posted by nax at 7:47 PM on August 28, 2007

"... I can train myself by subjecting myself to some sort of acute stress ..."

I think your premise, and that of the designers of the machine you've bought, is that all stresses which produce detectable tension in certain muscle groups, are equivalent. I don't agree with that, principally on the basis of years of personal and observational experiences. Your assumption set also seems to include the idea that if you remain relaxed, you'll perform better, which is anecdotally refuted by many professional performers, who recount constant battles with anxiety, stage fright, and self-medicating behaviors, trying to cope with the tension that public performance naturally creates.

"... The situation in which I tense up the most is in conversations or public speaking. ..."

I'm going to posit, that rather than remain isolated in your home, practicing bio-feedback techniques of stress reduction in artificially stressed situations, that you might better learn to perform with considerable levels of tension, as a normal condition of being in stressful situation. This is exactly what programs like Toastmasters attempt to offer; they give you realistic opportunities to practice public speaking in a supportive, but critical setting, and they provide feedback which helps you improve your performance while becoming accustomed to the nervous tension that often accompanies communication, particularly public speaking or intense conversation.

Lawyers have moot court, airline pilots have simulators, and business presenters/public speakers have Toastmasters.
posted by paulsc at 8:29 PM on August 28, 2007

If you like auto racing, just record a bunch of races and watch the last half hour of each. If you're anything like me, even if the race itself is boring, your heart will start to hammer in the last couple of laps, and you can practice bringing it back down.
posted by davejay at 8:48 PM on August 28, 2007

Take some foreign language or music lessons with a teacher who'll come to your house and be okay with your doing biofeedback at the same time.

Offer to come to local schools and demonstrate how biofeedback machines work to health or psych classes.

To make any stress worse, don't eat or sleep quite enough for a while (not recommended).
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 9:21 PM on August 28, 2007

Seconding Deathalicious. Visualize the thing that actually stresses you out, and slowly get over that; don't add new stresses to your life.
posted by occhiblu at 9:46 PM on August 28, 2007

This one can't be done for hours, but would probably be stressful for you. Play Taboo with some (close) friends. To do well at this game, you must be highly verbal and able to explain things quickly and in different ways. I've played it with lots of people: most (myself included) get stressed, and most also have buckets of fun.
posted by ms.v. at 10:21 PM on August 28, 2007

Virtual Air Traffic Control is challenging and stressful, and my interviewer at Nav Canada (Canadian ATC, basically) suggested it as the closest thing to reality. (VATSIM Wikipedia page.) It'll take some training, but hey, if you want a high-pressure situation, it's pretty good.

I would also second learning how to trade. Not day trading right away, but multi-day would do the job.

This all being said I think you're asking the wrong question. You want to stay relaxed through the stress you encounter in speaking situations. Your muscles tensing up is one thing, but you're just aiming to be able to handle these things better, or so it sounds, so maybe you should be looking at that instead.
posted by blacklite at 12:24 AM on August 29, 2007

More specifically and perhaps helpfully: you say you are stressed out when you interact with people. You can't fix that at home.
posted by blacklite at 12:25 AM on August 29, 2007

Attempt to parallel park in extremely tight spaces. In busy traffic.
posted by wackybrit at 5:18 AM on August 29, 2007

Three suggestions;

1) Take up spinning plates (start with tupperware. Tape quarters to the edges for weight).

2) Do some tele-marketing for a product you know is crap.

3) Drag your bio-feedback machine out to an open-mic night and work it into your act as a comedian. Seriously, there is nothing more stressful than trying to convince people that you are funny, esspecially if you're not sure weather or not you are, and the machine will be acceptable as a prop.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:52 AM on August 29, 2007

Telemarketing? I hate making cold calls.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:01 AM on August 29, 2007

The first person shooter F.E.A.R. for computer is terrifying. You WILL experience acute stress.
posted by lohmannn at 7:18 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tell your real-life friends (coworkers are even better) that you want them to witness your first dance performance. Do this by live webcam so that you can't edit the video.
posted by desjardins at 7:33 AM on August 29, 2007

Read NetHack spoilers and try to ascend. It's turn-based, so you're always in control of the stress, but the lack of saving makes the stress spill over to real-time.
posted by aye at 8:25 AM on August 29, 2007

Try online poker, for real money.
posted by delmoi at 10:28 PM on September 3, 2007

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