Self-imposed Trauma Requiring Excessive Struggle and Suffering.
We live in a world where stress is quickly becoming the underlying culprit of many common medical disorders we see today. People suffer from chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, heart disease, and auto-immune conditions, leading to loss of vitality, performance at work, heightened medical costs, and an overall decline in quality of life.
In a 24/7 “open” world, we are bombarded with more news, data, facts, and stimuli than ever before. We spend more, save less, and have so many choices that even a trip down the cereal aisle of a grocery store can overload the brain.
We’ve come a long way since 1950 when a family’s long-term plan was to own a home, have a life insurance policy, and take the kids to Disney once a year. However, with advancement comes the potential for side effects as humans tend to get out of balance.
Since we can’t turn back time, the only choice we have is to revert ourselves. We can live quietly inside, and create the internal and external boundaries needed to preserve what our spirits and physical bodies are genuinely designed to do: live peacefully.
We internalize and self-impose the traumatic effects of stress by allowing it to dictate our reactions to the circumstances we face. As more responsibilities appear on our plates, the emotions we attach to those requests are the forerunners of our actions.
However, it is always our choice as to how we react.
Do we feel important when we accomplish something even though it may be unrealistic? If so, we may be attempting to achieve significance at our own expense. Maybe money is tight, and the choices we need to make are tough. Do we adapt by moving to a less expensive area, disrupting our family? Or, do we take on an extra job, use credit cards for the rest, and add to the overall burden like a martyr?
Often it is a combination of both, as the need to feed our ego and the lifestyle we have created become the traps we find ourselves stuck in. The possibilities are as endless and unique as each of us.
After sustained periods of this kind of stress, physical manifestations occur, which we may treat symptomatically. It’s the equivalent of perpetually changing the gauze pad on a wound that needs stitching to heal.
What we don’t realize is that our job and family are suffering right along with us by watching us burn out and run ourselves into the ground, rather than make the needed changes to sustain everyone in a healthy, synergistic way.
When we have a cold, we take something to relieve the symptoms so that we can keep going. If the cold turns into something worse, like bronchitis, we get antibiotics, so we don’t get anyone else ill. Once we run a high enough fever, we call out sick and spend a week in bed anxious about the work that is piling up. We return to our jobs at 80%, stay late to catch up, and crash over the next two weekends to “get over the hump.” Sound familiar?
What if we just took a day or two to stop when our body signaled that it needed rest? Rather than a collective month of lower productivity at work and home, culminating with a week of lost time, we could have taken a couple of days to sleep, rest, eat well and slow down.
Similarly, we often push through periods of sustained travel, long work hours, worry, pressure, and anxiety because we need to keep our performance and output high, to keep pace with demanding responsibilities. It has become part of the expected norm, rather than protecting our greatest resource: health.
From the dawn of time, survival depended on the vigilance of 24-hour monitoring of groups and tribes. Responsibilities were delegated between dependable, adaptable people who knew that everyone depended on their performance for a set period. When one group was too tired to continue, others stepped in to care for the children, watch for enemies and predators, and went out to hunt while the others rested. This rotation continued, ensuring no one person was responsible long-term.
The fight or flight response which kept our ancestors alive was able to be turned off when not needed, and adequate time was taken in between to ensure the collective whole stayed functional and healthy.
Today’s society, with all of its constant stress and pressure, has us living as if a wild boar is in our family room ready to attack us. It may sound like a silly example, but it’s true. The part of your brain controlling your stress hormones can’t tell the difference between a man with a knife to your throat, a looming deadline, or mortgage payment.
All it feels is the hormone associated with your reaction to the stress, so it does what it is designed to do – protect you. How? By making sure you stay vigilant, awake, and slowing your metabolism to conserve resources – the last thing a modern-day person needs!
We can’t undo the part of our brain that has been with man since creation, but we can communicate better with it by letting it know the difference between a real threat and a self-imposed one. We do this by controlling our reactions. Not just outward calm for others to see, but true inward calm, especially at the point of a stress-inducing event.
Using breathing and meditation techniques, engaging in something meaningful and playful each day, connecting with nature in some way like a sipping coffee outdoors or walking at lunchtime without our phones, are simple yet effective ways of letting steam out of our kettles.
Taking a hot bath or shower at an unexpected time, spending 15 to 20 minutes reading a thoughtful book, listening to music during your commute instead of news, volunteering and engaging with someone who needs something you can provide, all promote a sense of well being.
We don’t all have the money to detach and take extravagant getaways, but I invite everyone to commit just 15 minutes, three times per day, to employ the use of mindfulness. Breathe deeply, write five things you are grateful for, take time to stretch, or close your eyes to think about good health, loved ones, and envision things the way you want them to be, to name a few.
Repeated use of such mindfulness techniques has been medically proven to alter the chemicals in the brain enough so that the stress hormones released during a perceived challenge can subside much quicker than if left to its natural pattern.
Without physical, mental, and spiritual health, we are out of balance and are not serving ourselves or anyone else. Your cup is meant to stay full so that you may help others from your overflow, not fumes. The best gift you can give to the world, including yourself, is the very best version of you. Some small modifications to your daily routine can make big impacts. Start retraining your brain to the automatic response to stress.
“Good health is true wealth.” Urijah Faber