Many of us live in a state of chronic stress or what I call Toxic Stress. Stress plays havoc with our health, well being, our enjoyment in life, and in the long term can lead to major health concerns like cancer, depression, heart disease, auto-immune disorders, it can even change the structure of our genes, not a good thing!!!!
Our bodies are built to handle threats (stress) in short bursts, such as running away from or fighting dinosaurs or other situations which threaten our lives. The stress hormones activate, allowing us to take care of T-Rex or a tricky traffic situation, and then return to normal states allowing the feel good, calming hormones to take over from the short term stress hormones.
I think of ‘Ruffus’, our beloved rescue dog, running along in the forest. He sees something out of the ordinary, assesses it as fight, flight or (being a dog, a pee on it situation) deals with it and gets on with his walk or even a nap. Like the other day, he saw a fallen tree across our path, lord only knows what he thought it was initially, some kind of tree-like animal? So, he approached it carefully, barking at it, and once he ascertained that in fact it was a fallen tree, anointed it and kept going!
We humans don’t do that these days. We go from one stressful situation to another, and instead of relaxing when it is over, we are on to reacting to the next situation, and pretty soon we are stuck on a never-ending “high alert” mode. Not knowing the difference between a true threat, like a dinosaur approaching and a phone dinging with a text message to be answered.
The reasons for this Toxic Stress, that we find ourselves in, are numerous. We live in a fast-changing world and a fast-paced world! Just as an example of the pace, is the way technology has changed the way we communicate. Long gone, are the days when a letter was mailed and a response expected sometime later, but not instantly. Gone also are the days when phones rang as busy when occupied. Now we have instant and multiple responses and phones, ringing while texts are arriving, while e-mails are beeping, and social media is tweeting at us, constantly. There is pressure to respond immediately and if we don’t, the complicated algorithms of Facebook and platforms such as AIRBNB, penalize us for a ‘slow response’ (of a few hours)!
But no matter the reasons for the Toxic Stress, we all have a magic tool, in our own minds for managing it. I call it magic because although we may not be able to control all the events in our lives, we can control our reaction to it. How? By applying a simple Formula, like math.
Here is how it works:
Event + Response = Outcome
Simple, yes? So something happens (Event) + our response (Response) = Our reaction, stressed or not stressed (Outcome)
We get to choose our response. I am going to repeat that, we get to choose our response. By choosing our response, we choose the outcome. This is the magical part, we don’t have to be stressed, we can literally choose not to be.
Let me give you an example:
Event — Phone dings with text at 6:00 PM.
Response — You look at it, it is from your boss, it is asking a tough question, you don’t know the answer, you don’t know how to get the answer, your mind is going down a train track to worry, the squirrels are chattering, maybe you will lose your job, your house, your family and lord knows what else.
Outcome — You become stressed, grumpy, irritable, maybe you have an extra glass of wine, maybe you crunch on junk food, maybe a sleepless or restless night follows and you wake up out of sorts and worried.
Event — Phone dings with a text at 6:00 PM
Response — You don’t look at it because you don’t look at texts after 6:00. You have a nice dinner, do your yoga, read your book and go to sleep waking up refreshed.
Outcome — You do not experience any stress over the text, you have a relaxing evening and a rejuvenating sleep.
It really is like magic, It is about our own responses to the event. We get to choose our response and therefore our outcomes.
But, but, but, you may well be thinking! I can’t… I can’t not look at my phone or, or what?? This is the challenging part. We need to challenge the beliefs we have that lead us to our responses and negative outcomes. Although we can have many beliefs that don’t serve us very well, most, if not all, come down to one, Fear. Fear of losing something, fear of not being perfect, fear of there not being enough and so on. So, to make it easier for you to challenge your ‘Yeah, buts’, ask yourself what fear is driving you?
Here is an example from my own life. AIRBNB has an algorithm that places your listing according to a number of factors, reviews, number of stays and Response time to requests for reservations. If you do not answer quickly enough they send you a reminder, and your rating is lowered. I can literally go to sleep, receive a request and if I don’t answer it, I have a reminder by the time I wake up in the morning. At first, this led me to keep my phone on all the time, so I wouldn’t miss requests. This led to a lot of stress. The dinging and blinging of my phone was calling me 24/7.
One day I said to myself, “I am going to turn my devices off at 5:00 PM”. The ‘Yeah, buts’ popped up as I challenged the belief that I needed to be available 24/7. I discovered Fear lurking in my belief. Fear that my AIRBNB rating would go down, fear that the rental property income would go down and so on. Once the fear was recognized and out, I could choose my response as opposed to being driven by the unconscious fear. I chose, by the way, to turn the devices off knowing the risk to my AIRBNB rating, but preferring to not have the stress of being on 24/7.
So, the next time an event occurs in your life, notice how your response to the event is directly related to the outcome. Choose your response, challenge the belief that is driving it if you come up with resistance to it, look for the fear-based negative belief, and be free to choose your response. I suggest you practice this with something that is relatively easy and simple for you so that you can experience the difference in outcomes according to your response. This will help prepare you for when something more challenging comes along.
Important note, this is for Toxic Stress situations, not to be used when a dinosaur or other threat is in your path.
As always all the best,
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