BY MICHELLE ANNE, MBSR
Even small stresses produce powerful stress responses in our brain triggering physical, emotional and mental reactions that affect how we think, speak and act throughout the day. The sad thing is, most of us when stressed have no control over our reactive behavior, nor can we admit we are stressed or affected by the circumstance. Overtime, this increases conflict at home, work, in our relationships, creates problems with finances, compromises the immune system and leads to life-threatening health concerns.
How often have you known you are stressed and allowed this to affect your conversation with a spouse, your kids, a loved one, a work friend or even a stranger? What’s the typical outcome?
Do you know how to use stress to create positive change and growth? Understanding your personal relationship with stress, how you perceive threats, your natural tendency to different stressors and having tools to apply when you are feeling stressed allows for a more relaxed, confident, healthy, meaningful life.
Most of us use self-restraint in business meetings and at the office in general, but, when we are interacting with someone we know, we can easily overreact, allowing stress to run the show. Stress elicits a reaction so quickly that we aren’t aware of it taking hold of our mind, our day, our attitude, and our voice.
Did you know? 75% of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including the inability to handle personal problems (Center for Creative Leadership).
Change your brain — Change your outcome Both real and perceived stress, whether from something environmental (work, or money) or a persistent worry (relationship woes, uncertainty, fear of failure, health concerns, doubt in yourself, guilt etc.) triggers a cascade of biological responses, which produce hormonal and physiological changes in the body. As soon as you feel an uncomfortable sensation, our brain is programmed to react.
What you can do — Feel the sensation.
• Learn to feel the sensation and relax. It’s not going to kill you.
• Invite the feelings in. Relax.
• Relax your shoulders, Relax your abdomen, allow all expression to fade from your face.
• Observe all sensations or lack of sensations, without commenting on them.
You may have heard of the phrase “fight-or-flight.” This phrase evolved because the stress response is a survival mechanism, which enables people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. Although this is necessary for our survival, our nervous system is wired to fixate on where trouble may be.
Keep in mind, you create your reality. What you focus on magnifies and amplifies. The more intensely you focus, the more it grows. After you relax with the feeling, choose how you want to show up. Take responsibility, as stressful situations will most likely happen for the rest of your life.
Choose to be the solution. Don’t ask others to change. Don’t blame others. Don’t avoid, fight or freeze. By stopping, feeling and relaxing when stressed you are actively changing how your brain is wired, creating new neural pathways. Overtime these pathways go from a dirt road, taking effort to choose, to a side road, becoming a tendency, an easy choice, to a superhighway, becoming an altered trait, automatically (Altered Traits, Richard Davidson).
It’s not going away!
With stress at epidemic levels in today’s’ society, our bodies are consistently overreacting to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as emails, traffic, long lines, work pressure, and family dynamics. When our body is in a constant state of physiological arousal over perceived threats, the body’s relaxation response doesn’t always have time to kick in before the next stressor hits.
If you feel stressed during the day, slow down and allow yourself to take a re-charge break. This allows the brain to oscillate between tension and relaxation, a technique that builds resilience, and increases energy and positivity.
Here’s a real-life stress response example.
When someone important to us criticizes us, we react in different ways. Some may withdraw, sulk, get quiet or depressed (Flight), some may lash out with anger, become judgmental, point a finger (Fight), or others may become unable to respond, or even think clearly how we want to respond (Freeze).
When similar thoughts and reactions happen over and over again we create habits. For instance, you may regularly feel like a victim. Overtime, this repetitive reaction becomes part of your character (hard-wired). What most of us don’t realize is the physiological response, consistent unhealthy level of cortisol produced by this habit, and it actually makes you more reactive, dependent or maybe even aggressive. Learning to master stress, allows you to show up to life with a relaxed confidence, an adaptability to change and challenge and quite frankly be more successful.
What we know:
Stress has a negative impact on our relationships, work, productivity, mental health, energy, and success. It throws us into a negative loop that is sometimes near impossible to get out of. Mindfulness changes our relationship with stress, increasing effectiveness over-time. Mindfulness is associated with lower anxiety, increased pregnancy rates, positive outlook, better sleep and overall happiness.
Share with me your stress stories at firstname.lastname@example.org. Initiate a Stress Mastery/Mindfulness program in your workplace. 303-777-1117, www.theMastersCourse.com Or sign up for Stress Mastery Classes held at Mayu Sanctuary.
Micehelle Anne is Founder/Executive Director of The Masters Course. She received her training to teach Mindfulness from Jon Kabat-Zinn, trained personally with Shri Amritji. She’s an active member of the American Institute of Stress. Her passion is helping corporations create a sustainable and resilient workforce. The Masters Course is validated and evidence-based developed in collaboration with The American Institute of Stress and UMass Center for Mindfulness.