Feeling stressed? Let’s take a look at Eisenhower’s day – the one known as D – and discover his secret for de-stressing.
Hitler was executing a holocaust in fortress Europe. Generals Monty, Patton and Bradley were at each other’s throats. Churchill pushed for Italy as the better plan. Stalin was in a rage to invade anywhere in the East to ease the massacre on the Western front where Russians had been fighting for three years. General de Gaulle was organizing a government and insisting on French troop placements. Roosevelt wanted the Americans on the opposite flank in order to race to Berlin.
In order to maintain a cohesive command they all deferred to a Texas farm boy who was appointed Supreme Allied Commander as much because of his skill at diplomacy as his ability to command. His first combat command had only been a few short months before and now millions of lives depended on this one crucial day.
Failure Is An Option
The weight of the world was on Eisenhower’s shoulders – literally. He was about to launch the world’s largest military operation. In the photo above he was visiting U.S. paratroopers who would land that night behind enemy lines, many certain to be killed. In his pocket at the time was a speech he had written taking full responsibility in the event D-day failed.
Refusing to sleep in his posh command headquarters, Ike returned to wait in his spartan command trailer which he had specifically built to avoid the mansions and estates the other generals appropriated. In that rattletrap hideaway he found his personal secret to stress relief. Littering the trailer was a large supply of paperback western novels, his only known form of entertainment.*
Fiction Fights Fear?
Ike had discovered the power of fiction to change the channel in your mind.
This West Point graduate, historian, writer and tactician, renowned for keeping thousands of statistics and bits of information in his mind at once, needed a simpler place to let his mind rest. The fact that he retreated to fictional cowboys was no stretch for a Texan who had witnessed gunfights in the street as a child.
Fiction has the power to thoroughly engage the mind and emotions without any of the strain and responsibility of the real world. Releasing the cycle of worry allows the brain to stop stressful adrenaline production which boosts the immune system and allows for better rest. It’s easier to read, close a book and drift off to sleep than to stare at the ceiling in a spiral of late night imaginings.
Perchance To Dream
The adverse effects of sleep deprivation range from irritability and trouble thinking all the way up to disintegrating health and paranoia. Not things you want a Supreme Allied Commander to suffer, or yourself for that matter. Though we may not deal with the thousands of problems that Ike did, it seems like it some days.
A healthy way to distract your mind and relax your brain is as valuable to us as it was to General Eisenhower. The trick is finding something interesting enough to keep you engaged without being a page-turning thriller that keeps you up half the night.
Later, at Winston Churchill’s advice, the two term president took up painting for the same relaxing purpose. The intense focus required to create allows you to get in a zone that insulates you from the pressures around you. Writing, at which Ike excelled, also provides the same result, but that’s another story.
Finding your favorite authors and subjects is a very personal choice. I like Westerns, adventure and thrillers while Suzie prefers mysteries, historical fiction and cat detectives. The specifics aren’t that important. The idea is to create a relaxed brain.
I figure if it’s good enough for the Supreme Allied Commander of D-Day, it would probably work for me. Happy reading.
*From pg 51 of the appropriately paperback edition of Ike, An American Hero by Michael Korda, 2007 Harper-Collins Photo: Eisenhower with U.S. paratroopers of the 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on June 5, 1944 General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day.
“Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the Day. ‘Full victory-nothing else’ to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe.” Eisenhower is meeting with US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike) of the 101st Airborne Division, photo taken at Greenham Common Airfield in England about 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944. The General was talking about fly fishing with his men as he always did before a stressful operation. Memoir by Lt Wallace C. Strobel about this photo (seen wearing the number 23 around his neck): http://www.historyaddict.com/Ike502nd.html