From the Inside Out: what to do when air gets dense

I just returned from a vacation in the mountains and thought it was hilarious that the unopened bag of chips, which were popping at the seams in the higher altitude, were back down to the normal again when I arrived back home.  And that empty plastic bottles that we packed in the mountains and brought down to recycle, collapsed in our kitchen.  Clearly, the air was different there.

Everyone knows the air is “thinner” at altitude.  The contents of the air spread out in the lower air pressure.  As if each molecule of oxygen also wanted to go on vacation and get away from it all.  At sea level, the air pressure is higher because it bears the combined weight of the air molecules in the atmosphere. At the depths where scuba divers dare to do, that density is even more pronounced.

Life is like this as well.  Sometimes, when you are on a mountain-top of emotions, the air seems lighter as attitudes are buoyant and optimism is high.  In other times, you can feel the weight of the atmosphere bearing down and the density of the air surrounding you.  The heaviness of life.

Adjusting to different physical altitudes is a science and an art.  Scuba divers and mountain climbers know the risks of pressure imbalances.  I have read that the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City were subjected to unprotected dive conditions and developed symptoms like leg weakness, headaches, dizziness, and the like.  Symptoms that were often confused with drunkenness to their neighbors, but were in fact decompression sickness.  We can develop our own debilitating conditions when we don’t adapt properly to changing conditions.

Yesterday, I went from a relaxing vacation get-away to hearing of a family friend’s losing battle with cancer. Although those are both personal examples, we have all experienced professional highs and lows in rapid succession.  A big win followed by a loss.  A project triumph followed by new frustrations or set-backs.  Times of breathless amazement and times of defeat when we can’t seem to catch our breath.  Such is life. 

So, does the treatment of decompression sickness teach us anything about dealing with the ups and downs of our circumstances?

The first thing they do to treat decompression sickness is to administer 100% oxygen, preferable in a high-pressure chamber.  Something that would stabilize the person at a level before they move to normal conditions.  Something that would put the gasses in their blood back into solution.  Medical professionals also recommend fluids to fight dehydration.  This kind of nourishment works from the inside out. 

Sometimes we need the same at work – nourishment from the inside out.  When things go from good to worse, it is critical to maintain our perspective and force ourselves to be grateful and mindful of the goodness that surrounds us.  To remember the successes.  We can take a break from the frustration, focusing our attention on something that can be done with ease to build momentum – returning to the original problem with more energy and creativity.  We might need a nourishing talk with a friend or colleague.  We might not be able to change the external circumstances, but we can change the internal conditions.  And we can remain compassionate – with others and with ourselves – when they experience these symptoms.   

When the air gets heavy, remember when it was light to avoid collapsing under the pressure.

P.S.  Most of us cope with this oscillation between fair and foul weather with some finesse, although I understand that there are millions out there that need to seek professional help.  I am not addressing the real and debilitating disease of depression in this article, but encourage you to find whatever help you need to manage your own pressures.

This article was published on LinkedIn Pulse.