Want to decompress?

2012-08-07 12:25



Want to decompress?

Reader question:

In this sentence – When I want to decompress after a stressful day, I want to come home and bake cookies – what does “decompress” mean exactly?

My comments:

To the speaker, baking cookies is an escape from stressful work during the day.

Baking cookies to other people might be a chore – it is a lot of work in itself – but to the speaker, it is a relief.

To decompress, you see, is essentially to relax.

Decompress is the opposite of compress, which means to press and squeeze, i.e. to increase the pressure and therefore reduce something to a smaller size. Computer people, for example, talk of compressing and decompressing files, i.e. changing large files into a smaller format and vice versa.

Or, have you ever used a pressure cooker? That’s another good example right there in the kitchen. Unlike normal cookers, the pressure cooker is air tight. Being air tight, it is able to retain more hot air as the water in the cooker boils and evaporates. Increasing amount of vapor means increased pressure in the cooker (hence the term pressure cooker) which in consequence makes hard-to-boil meats easy to cook.

After the meats are cooked, you open the little hole on top of the lid to gradually release the air inside, for it to decompress, i.e. to drop in pressure, before you can open the lid altogether.

Well, people work so hard that they sometimes describe their work places as pressure-cooker situations.

Wow, sounds terrible but it does ring a bell, doesn’t it? Anyways, there is simply a great deal of pressure from the work place, what with actual work to complete and deadlines to meet, and relationships to keep – bosses to please, competitor colleagues to beat, etc and so forth.

This is why today’s work force treasure vacation so much. To have a few days off allows them to get away from the high-pressure situations at work and allow them to decompress – to relax and shed the pressure like a dirty clothes.

That’s what it means when the speaker says he/she wants to go home and bake cookies in order to decompress. To the speaker, baking cookies is a form of leisure because it allows him/her to focus on the cookies instead of their work and office, thus allowing their mind to rest, to relax, to chill and above all, to heal.

And hopefully after the cookies are ready, their stress from work is gone. Their muscles are no longer stiff. Their nerves are at ease. And they are truly decompressed, refreshed and raring to go.

Ready to march into the office and fight for another day.

Well, perhaps not quite ready for that yet. Not so soon, at any rate.

Alright, let’s all decompress a bit further for now by examining media examples of people who all want to decompress in one way or another:

1. Teri Jackson, a single mother who grew up in Southwest Austin, was deployed to Iraq in March 2004, leaving behind her sons, then 11 and 8 years old. As soon as she got to the barren trailer in Balad that would serve as her living quarters for the next year, she decorated it with photos of her children and cheery memories of home.

A few days later, Jackson, 40, a U.S. Army truck driver, went on her first mission, hauling supplies to a distant base. Suddenly, her partner, who was driving at the time, slammed on the brakes, sending Jackson hurtling into the windshield. The move probably saved her life as a mortar round flew past the truck.

When she returned to her trailer, Jackson took down the photos from the walls.

“I said, ‘You can’t focus on your family.’ I couldn’t come and sit and see that every day. I had to focus on the mission,” she said. “You get so numb. You have to turn off your emotions.”

Jackson is part of a record number of women serving in the military – many of whom served as truck drivers, gunners and combat medics – who face unique challenges when they return home to their children from the war zone. She’s also part of a historic wave of women who are fundamentally changing the military and sparking a push to revolutionize the lumbering Veterans Affairs medical system that was set up for older, male veterans – not women in need of child care and changing tables.

More than 212,000 women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 11 percent of the total deployed military force. Forty percent of active-duty women have children. And more than 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to the war zone, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Elwanda Hawthorne, a counselor at the VA-run Austin Veterans Center, says female veterans – and especially mothers – face a set of challenges when they come home that is different from those of their male counterparts.

Like male service members, women often return home emotionally exhausted. But, Hawthorne said, many mothers are thrust back into caretaker roles the moment they return from war. They get no time to readjust, even though the military advises service members to take time off to decompress once they return home.

“We learn to shut down but still function” while deployed, said Hawthorne, a veteran who served in both Desert Storm and Iraq. “When we come home, it’s hard to flip the switch. It’s like, you look OK, you sound OK, so you must be the same person that left 12 months ago. But in actuality, they’re not. Women are supposed to be the nurturers of families, but when they come home, that’s when the female needs to be nurtured.”

- For many women, returning home from war means a new challenge: being moms again, Statesman.com, May 1, 2010.

2. The actress admits she’s a huge fan of Food Network and uses televised kitchen demonstrations to “decompress” on sets.

She explains, “I watch a lot of cooking shows. I go through stints where it’s on TV constantly and I get sick of it and have to turn it off but I’m, like, really kind of obsessed with cooking.”

And her love of cookery shows has helped her perfect her own culinary skills: “When I was doing Breaking Dawn I made soup constantly because it was freezing cold and I made big pots of it so everyone could have some. I would bring it to work and share it.”

But she’s not exactly proud of her reputation as Twilight’s resident chef: “For some reason I find it really dorky, cooking. I’m like really embarrassed by it for whatever reason. Now, the boys have spread the fact I cook onset like wildfire and now I'm asked about it in every interview.”

- Kristen Stewart Watches Cooking Shows To Relax, StarPulse.com, November 27, 2011.

3. Just cleared airport security and in need of a little deep breathing and stretching relaxation?

San Francisco Airport has opened what it calls a first of its kind yoga room, and while it’s not quite a mountaintop in Tibet, airport officials say the low lights, and soothing blue walls aim to afford travelers, stressed out or sanguine, an oasis of calm in which to flex, twist and decompress.

“As far as we know it’s the first (yoga room) at an airport anywhere in the world,” said Michael C. McCarron, director of community affairs for the airport.

He said the idea for the room, in the newly refurbished Terminal 2, came from a passenger suggestion at an open house. It joins the Berman reflection room, a space intended for silence and meditation located before Terminal 2 security.

Airport Director John L. Martin called the room, which opened last week, “another leap forward in providing our travelers the opportunity and space to relax and decompress on their own terms.”

The architects, Gensler Design, set the lights low and warm in contrast to the light, bright concourse, according to a statement, and a floating wall was constructed to symbolize “a buoyant spirit and enlightened mind.”

Large felt-constructed rocks will be installed in the Spring in a nod to the Zen gardens of Japan.

- San Francisco airport unveils yoga room for travelers, Reuters, January 30, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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