I was filming a video today that demonstrated exercises to release tension in the hands, wrists, and forearms, and I started to think about emotional stress and tension.
I was talking to a friend yesterday about how difficult it can be to stand up for yourself when you are a people-pleaser by nature. How is it that the fear and anxiety that comes from saying “no” to someone else can be greater than the stress and anxiety that we are placing on ourselves by saying “yes”? I have wondered this for many years.
I decided to do some research on the “fight or flight” response. While these days we aren’t typically running from wild animals who want to make us their dinner, emotional stressors such as being forced to work 60 – 80 hour weeks for fear of losing our jobs can illicit the same response — rapid heart beat, a surge of adrenaline, stress hormones pumping throughout our body. All of the same things that would prepare us to fight or run away from a predator are engaged, and we lose the ability to thinking clearly and rationally during that time.
In most situations today, once our fight or flight response is activated, we can’t fight or run from these threatening situations. We have to figure out how to regain control and deal with it. In fact, there are so many of these modern day stressors – feeling overworked, missing a deadline, sitting in awful traffic every day – that our fight or flight response can stay triggered for days on end. This leads to aggression (like road rage) and overreaction; every little thing feels like the LAST straw!
So what do we do? How do we deal with this emotional stress?
I have to say, I absolutely learned this lesson the hard way. As far as traffic is concerned … let’s just say I’m still working on that one.
One thing we can do is give ourselves a time-out. Change your environment. If possible, remove ourselves from the situation by going for a walk or stepping outside for a few moments until we feel calmer and our rational thinking returns.
Another option is to surround yourself with positive people, people who are grounded. Discussing the situation with people in the same boat adds fuel to the fire and keeps your anxiety level high. Try talking with someone you trust who is removed from the situation and can offer perspective. Maybe you DO need to change jobs, so “no” to a new assignment that is going to keep you away from your family or go against your values. A reality check from a positive supportive person can be just what you need.
When your nerve cells are not firing out of control, practice mindfulness. Try techniques like taking deep, relaxing breaths or a short meditation. Finding ways to promote relaxation are helpful, as you can cue them during stressful times. You can read more about mindfulness in my post, “Multi-tasking vs. Mindfulness: The Science of Stress.”
How often do you feel your “fight or flight” response kick in? Do you ever wonder if you should stay or go?
I’m sure you have found other ways to deal with the anxiety-provoking feelings. Tell me about it in the comments below — I want to hear from you!
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