Managing Stress: A Five Elements Approach

Dear Vicki: Thanks to your blog, I’m beginning to understand the impact our energies have on our relationships. I’ve heard you say that one of the best things we can do for our relationships is to keep ourselves balanced, but it seems harder and harder to stay balanced these days. There’s so much going on in the world with all the natural disasters lately and even a growing threat of war. My personal life is much more intense, as well. I work in a daycare center and the children are more agitated, their parents are more stressed, and it feels like I can’t do enough to keep everyone happy. How can we keep ourselves and our relationships balanced when things are so stressed and crazy? Signed: Worried for Us All

Dear Worried: There does seem to be more stress in the world these days. We have had devastating hurricanes, typhoons, flooding, fires, and earthquakes affect every continent in the past few years. Political issues around the world have created their own kind of stress, as well. Add to this whatever is going on in our individual lives, and we have a recipe for imbalance in our energies. But we have choices in how we address stress, and the Five Elements model offers us informed options. That’s another beautiful aspect of the Five Elements model – it simplifies what can be a highly complex situation.

From a Five Elements perspective, the model says there are only two ways the elements can become imbalanced. They can move to a state of over energy (excess) or under energy (deficiency). And when that happens, the fix for the imbalance sits in the interactions of the elements with each other. This is simple and easy at a model level, but does get a bit more complicated when applied to the human personalities the elements represent. However, it’s still surprisingly easy to identify what’s out of balance when we’re stressed and take appropriate steps to relieve the stress and regain balance.

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Control a Red Hot Issue for This Metal

Dear Vicki: Your last blog post about the positive aspects of control was really interesting, but like you said, having Earth as the controlling element is hitting the jackpot. Earths are gentle and kind. I’m not so lucky – I’m a primary Metal, which means Fire is my control. Too much time around Fire people is hard on me; they aren’t sweet and “guiding” like Earths. They are much harsher. How can control be a good thing when the element controlling you destroys you? Signed: Melted Metal

Dear Melted Metal: You are one of several emails I received regarding last week’s blog. There is definitely a bit of control envy out there. Everyone wants Earth on their Controlling Cycle! And I do understand. As a Wood, interactions with Metals, my control element, can feel tough even when their “pruning” is well intentioned. But there is great wisdom in the Five Elements model! Think of it: A sweet Earth wouldn’t have a chance of controlling a rampaging Wood because Wood has way too much structure for an Earth to oppose. Instead, it’s Metal, the most structured of all elements, that controls the excessive Wood. But while Earth cannot control Wood, that Wood structure is perfect for helping stabilize the over-energized Earth. Landslides are impossible on a well-wooded slope.

As a Metal, nothing stands up to your structure, but when you’re in a place of excessive Metal, more structure is the last thing you need. What you really need is to release some structure and the heat of Fire is the perfect way to bring flexibility to Metal. In truth, no element destroys another; they just bring balance. Fire decreases the too structured Metal and gives it flexibility. Metal prunes the over-expanded Wood to keep it from toppling. Wood anchors and prevents the Earth from sliding. And just to complete the cycle, Water prevents Fire from burning too hot and destroying itself.

The brilliance of the Five Elements model is that the element controlling you is just what you need to address an over-energized state. But this is still fairly abstract, so let’s look at a few real life examples for the Controlling Cycle relationships not covered last week. We’ll start with your Controlling Cycle relationship first.

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With the Five Elements, Control Can Be Good

Dear Vicki: I’m familiar with the Five Elements model and how the elements keep each other in balance by either giving energy or taking it away. And in the model, that makes sense. But when that gets applied to people, I don’t understand how controlling someone can be good. My husband is an Earth and I’m a Water, so this means his Earth controls my Water. But I can tell you from personal experience, things don’t feel that good sometimes. Can you please give some real life examples of Water/Earth Controlling Cycle relationships that are positive? Thank you. Signed: Confused About Control

Dear Confused: This is an excellent question! Most people have a negative reaction to the idea of being controlled and that’s certainly come up in several of these blog posts over the years. Cutting something back doesn’t seem good because in our Western culture we often live by the maxim, “Bigger is better!” But in the East, where the Five Elements model originated thousands of years ago, a condition of too much is just as bad as a condition of too little. Said another way, inherent in the Five Elements model is the truth that bigger is usually not better. Instead, when there is too much of any element, it is necessary and good for the whole to reduce that element to help retain balance. And in the abstraction of the model, the element is happy to be reduced so that the whole can remain balanced.

When applying this to people, we usually don’t like being reduced, especially in the West with our “more is always better than less” approach to life. But still, when we are stressed, there are times that someone stepping in to guide, protect, cool down, relax, or counterbalance us is good. And these are all aspects of what one element can do for another in a Controlling Cycle relationship.

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Helping Wood Son Burned By Family of Fires

Dear Vicki: I am new to the study of the Five Elements and find it fascinating. In looking at our family, it seems that my husband, myself, and our two daughters are all Fires. Our son, Mike, is definitely a Wood, which helps me understand why he feels uncomfortable when we are all together. When Mike was younger, he would take a pillow and curl up somewhere quiet to nap because we seemed to exhaust him. Now that there have been additions to the family – two sons-in-law (one Water, one Metal) and a grandson (Wood) – Mike seems to handle family gatherings a little better. But with the holiday season coming up, how can we help Mike be even more comfortable for the numerous times we are all together?  Are there colors or things to add to the environment that would be helpful? We love him dearly. Signed: Mom

Dear Mom: As a Wood myself, I feel for your son growing up in a family full of Fires. Wow! Life would never have been boring! And even though Wood and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle, it’s Mike’s Wood that had to feed all four of your Fires. That’s a lot to ask of one Wood and totally explains why he not only appeared slightly uncomfortable, but also snuck away for naps. Feeding four Fires would exhaust any Wood.

Even Fires will admit that too much Fire energy can become chaotic, and chaos takes a Wood down quicker than almost anything else. That’s why Woods are often perceived as control freaks. But in truth, they don’t want control, they just want to prevent things from getting out of control. Living with four Fires, Mike was not only exhausted from trying to feed your Fire (in relationships, this means being the audience for the Fire), he was also likely trying to manage what he perceived as chaos. When younger, withdrawing from the drama was probably the best way for him to retain his own balance. And as you may have discovered, it works for adults, too.

It’s not surprising that maturity and additions to the family have made things a bit better for Mike. The good news is that Woods have great boundaries and, as an adult, it’s probably easier for Mike to draw a line now than it was when he was young. If things get too chaotic now, he can easily excuse himself (having work to catch up on is a great Wood excuse) and seek out a quiet area. There are different elements in the mix now, too, which also takes some of the pressure off of Mike, although it will be important to understand the specific relationships he’ll have with each of the new additions to your family.

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The Sparks of Fire and Metal: Structure and Control

Dear Vicki: I’m having trouble with a new boss and wonder if you can help. Alex was brought in last month to manage the restaurant where I work as a waitress while I’m in college. It’s a well-respected chain and I make good money, but it’s no longer fun. Alex has a dreary personality; he’s a real downer. We all used to laugh and joke around a lot, but since he’s been there, it seems like the joy has gone out of everything. Alex doesn’t like any of us, either, especially me; he’s cut back my hours and told me to get some rest. Really? He’s such a control freak. I’d planned on staying in this job until I graduate next year, but now I’m not so sure. My mom knows a lot about the Five Elements – she’s the one who suggested I write you – and she says I’m a Fire and Alex seems like a Water or Metal to her. Can you help? I don’t want to quit my job. It’s so fun. Signed: Waitress in Wautoma

Dear Waitress: I agree, your job can be great fun. I worked as a waitress while in college and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is usually a fair amount of camaraderie between the staff in a restaurant, plus the customers are out for a good time. You probably do well there, too, because your Fire tendency to be outgoing and enjoy connecting with people is perfect for working as a waitress. But for a restaurant to run well, not everyone should be a Fire. Can you imagine what it would be like at work if everyone always said “Yes!” right away, if no one stopped and thought through the ramifications of a specific decision, or took time to submit the food and beverage orders weekly? It would be chaos and the restaurant would soon be out of business.

In fact, your restaurant is a perfect example of the Five Elements model in action: it needs all of the elements to be successful: Waters for creativity and envisioning potential, Woods for getting things done, Fires to keep people happy and engaged, Earths to handle the food, and Metals to manage the business end. As the Five Elements model says, if any part of this gets out of balance, the whole will suffer.

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