Have you ever thought about how much stress we experience throughout every single day? And the truly crazy thing is that we almost wear it as a badge of honor. Like if we are not crazy busy and stressed, we are wasting what precious little time we have on this Earth. To be a worthwhile person, we have to fill every second of every day with something. When you think about everything you do, is it all really necessary? I know people who vacuum, mop, dust, etc. EVERY SINGLE DAY, in addition to having a full time job. While it’s nice to have a clean, tidy house, is all that effort really worth it? Maybe if you find cleaning to be relaxing, it is. But otherwise, you are just putting a lot of undue pressure on yourself.
As I was getting ready for work this morning, I realized something. I was getting my husband’s and my lunches together and it was a few minutes after when I normally leave for work. I was running late! The stress started to kick in, when I stopped myself. I am 15 minutes early for work every day. That is my “on time”. When I am running really late for work, guess what? I am exactly on time. 15 minutes late for me is actually right on time. Why do I instill these false deadlines in my head and allow myself to get stressed over nothing?
Then when I left for work today, I did what I normally do. I put my stuff in the passenger seat and closed the door to walk around to the driver’s side. But this morning, as I did this, I heard a beep. My car somehow locked itself with my car key, house key and phone in it! I have a keyless entry, so it should unlock just by my pulling on the handle. But, of course, it did not. I was locked out of my car, locked out of my house and didn’t have my cell phone. I managed to not panic and stay calm. Worst case scenario, I would eventually find a way to call a locksmith to get into my car (do they still do that?) and it would just be a minor inconvenience. I would be late to work and have to spend some money on the locksmith, but all would be ok in the end.
I took a breath and remembered that I have a spare key in the house. My husband was in the shower, so I hit the doorbell a few times, which also got the dogs barking. Thankfully he heard the commotion and let me in. I got the spare key and went outside. I hit the button to unlock my door and nothing happened. I felt the stress wanting to kick in, but I pushed it down. Then I remembered (silly me) that when you press a button on my key fob, it has an actual physical key; imagine that! So I manually unlocked the door with my dead spare key and managed to get to work on time.
Stress has the ability to make us dumb. It sends the blood away from our brain and to our extremities, so we can run away from the predator chasing us. The problem is that our stressors are no longer grizzly bears looking for lunch, they are problems that we need our brain to solve. So losing our ability to think clearly is the last thing we need! But our bodies take a very long time to evolve and we are still set up with a fight or flight response. Unfortunately, this response is actually triggered to some extent all day long with every negative thought or worry we have. Our brain is set up to identify all possible dangers in order to keep us alive. And then when it is aware of a possible danger, it prepares to fight it. It is far safer to assume that every bush is hiding a hungry grizzly bear than not. But since our problems are no longer life threatening, this isn’t helpful to us anymore.
To make it even worse, when our brain is stressed and firing stress hormones into our body, our other systems that are in charge of healing, fertility, etc. shut down. When you are running from the bear, the most important thing is to get away. You can worry about healing and passing on your genes to new generations once you are safe. But are we ever “safe” anymore?
It’s a catch 22. You get sick because you are stressed all of the time. And then because you are sick, you stress out even more. We set up these arbitrary expectations and then beat ourselves up when we have a miss. So what can we do? When you feel that stress or panic popping up, just stop, take a breath and ask yourself if you are physically in immediate danger. If not, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Even if it’s something that causes you to feel more stress like you’ll be late for work or you will have to spend money, ask yourself this: Then what will happen next? Will you lose your job if you are late? Will you lose your house because you don’t have enough money to pay both bills? A month from now, will this event still have an impact on your life? If the answer is no to all of these questions, then why are you freaking out? Just calm yourself down and know that all will be well. And once you are calm, finding a solution to your problem will be much easier.
As for the constant stream of negative thoughts and “what if’s?”, try to catch yourself and change the subject in your head. Try meditating, positive affirmations, acupressure, EFT, or anything that relaxes you. I’m sure you can see how imperative it is to try your best to stay positive and not let your outdated fight or flight response get the better of you. I wish you good luck and good thoughts.