When stressing over something, is it really that urgent?
I really mean that as a question. Take a minute and think about all the things you stress over. It could be money, your work, kids, family, whether people like you are not.
Now I am not dismissing these worries, but I hope to get you to think about them, not only differently, but less. But first I need to tell you what I mean when I say are your worries really that urgent.
Let’s take a scenario, if you are late for work and can’t find your keys, ask yourself how you might be feeling. Now you could be one of those laid back types that would take this in their stride, but you probably wouldn’t be reading this post! I need you to imagine someone (maybe even your good self) getting stressed over this, maybe the odd swear word, rushing about and generally getting more and more frantic.
Found your keys, but are freaking out all the way to work.
What’s happening to your body?
You are getting a stress response. It could be mild or strong, but you will recognise the tell tale signs if you are more easy to anger (like say at that person who took to long to pull away from the traffic lights, when you were already running late.)
So why does it matter?
Well, the stress response is really only designed for when your life is in danger.
The video below is taken from a webinar I did recently and explains the stress response in detail.
The course mentioned in the video can be found here
If you watched the video, you will see that the stress response is great at helping you cope with an immediate threat, but the problem is how you (or rather, your brain) defines a threat.
If you are getting stressed over, for example, being late for work, losing your keys, getting stuck in traffic, your brain (loosely speaking) is defining these as threats – hence you feel the stress. The problem is, it is very difficult for your brain to know when the threat has passed and that it is okay to calm down, and you can end up in a state of chronic stress.
What chronic stress does to your body
If you are constantly getting stressed over small things (such as being stuck in traffic), you can think of this as having a switch for anxiety and it is stuck on the ‘on position’ – again, if you haven’t watched the video referred to above, it is explain fully in the video. Your body is responding as if everything is urgent. When I say urgent, I mean that your body is required to use a huge amount of effort (the same effort that is required in life and death situations) to mobilise you to cope with the threat – it demands your urgent attention and this urgent reaction from your body.
Is getting stuck in traffic or losing your keys really worth this urgent response?
No. As your body is going to pay for this constant stress.
Chronic stress is not good for your heart. The stress response results in your heart beating faster, which is fine if you quickly need to get out of harms way. But if this is happening over day to day things, this extra pressure on your heart can take its toll.
It can lead to muscle pain and tension headaches – as your muscles tense when you are in danger, to give you energy you need to fight or flight.
Chronic stress can lead to tummy problems, such as acid reflux, as during the stress response your digestive processes slow down.
More information can be found on APA.org
How to react differently?
The first thing is being aware that you are over reacting to day to day things in life. You are not doing this on purpose, rather think of it as a habitual reaction that you have, that you now wish to change.
When you feel the effects of stress, or feel angry or under pressure, ask yourself.
Does this situation need an urgent response, is my life in danger?
If the answer is no, don’t expect miracles at the start, as this will take practice. Whatever is happening, take a few minutes and settle your breathing. Why? Breathing in, you stimulate the stress response a little, breathing out, you stimulate a relaxation response a little, so you want to focus on making your exhales a little longer than your inhales.
Watch what is happening in your brain
Ask yourself what is going on with your thought processes. Are you calling the person in the car in front a selection of choice names? Stop it. Your thoughts have a direct impact on what is happening in your body, again this is explained in the video. Tell yourself the person in front is doing their best, show some compassion, as when you are compassionate, you feel less anger, and the stress response will start to calm down.
If there is one thing to take away from this post it is to remember when you are stressed
Is this something I need to respond to urgently, is this a life and death situation?
Further reading Anxiety