“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are,” Anaïs Nin
“Shtuff” happens – every day. We can react, resist or re-pattern, and thereby manage our stress level, and ultimately how we perceive our life.
Self help books speak of emotions as “charges” which attract repeating patterns in our lives, such as:
· Bosses who never listen, or
· Colleagues who are climbing the corporate ladder at all costs, or
· Partners who are never all that we desire, or
· Our children who always give us attitude, or
· Our horses, dogs or cats who never seem to listen to us.
How do these behaviors show up in your life?
These stress patterns are highly charged and show up as:
· “Reactions, polarizing opinions, pressed buttons
· Holding grudges
· Taking things personally
· Constant worry and fear
· Temper tantrums and emotional meltdowns
· Road rage, ranting
· Addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, sex, the Internet, etc – according to Stephanie Bennett Vogt, in “Your Spacious Self.”
Emotion-“Schmemotion” is over-rated. What does the plain old dictionary say?
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “emotion” as:
b : excitement
a : the affective aspect of consciousness : feeling
b : a state of feeling
c : a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”
Interestingly, it defines emotion as having a physiological effect on us which affects our behavior.
If we keep our stress response at an unconscious level, never bothering to dig deeper to find its source and re-direct it, we become addicted to the stress pattern and stuck in a rut. Yes, we become addicted to our stress.
We respond to the same situations in repeated behavioral cycles that do not bring the result we seek. The more we use that neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. The stronger it becomes, the more difficult to break the unproductive pattern. Remember, stress is the number one killer in America.
If we take some time to de-construct our stress response we stand a better chance of breaking the non-productive cycle and enhancing the quality of our life. Stress is related to our emotional needs: if we learn to discern what is occurring in any moment and get clear about what we really need, we can better control our choices, reduce our stress levels, and choose more consciously, thus creating more of what we want. (Of course this assumes no clinical or other issues that require specialist help.)
So, how does our brain process stress?
From a brain science perspective, our limbic or mammalian brain is the seat of our emotional balance, relationship, intimacy, spiritual connection and pleasure. How we connect with ourselves and others is largely determined by the state of our emotional brain, according to “Wired for Joy,” by Laurel Mellin.
The limbic brain is the clearing house for our stress that enters through our senses. It sorts through and prioritizes thoughts, emotional memories, unconscious expectations, body messages – in milliseconds. It then chooses the most important need and sends up a message in the form of an emotion to our neocortex, where more advanced thinking, planning and deciding occur. Understanding this context can help us be more objective about what is occurring within us at a moment of challenge, and allow us to choose our response rather than react.
In the next blog, I will explore where our wiring comes from, how our unconscious mind complicates stress, and how the reptilian brain overtakes our thinking when “shtuff” is triggered for us.
When a challenging situation slaps you in the face and triggers a fully blown reptilian brain reaction with heightened emotions, overwhelm and confusion, do damage control to quiet down this stress circuit.
You can do this whether you are at work, at home, out in the community or riding your horse. Explore a different approach as part of your self-care. Take a moment and say to yourself, “do not judge, minimize harm, know it will pass. (From the Emotional Brain Training process in “Wired for Joy.”) This will help move you to a less stressful brain state and pave the way to higher level processing.
As you continue to breath, oxygenating your mind and body, expand by considering what is your greatest need in this situation. Do you need to take a walk down the corridor, do you need to ask for something, do you need to get off your horse and do groundwork, or simply to disengage?
Evolve by beginning to change a habit that no longer serves you and by taking care of yourself. Choose non-stress.
Sheila Armitage helps individuals and organizations adopt everyday resilience practices that boost work, home, and health.