Breaking the Stress Habit
Stress has become a habit, maybe even an addiction for far too many of us — it’s time to break the habit! Our bodies are made to have natural self protection abilities. The fight or flight response exists to protect us against real danger. The problem is that in our modern age of instant information, our brain doesn’t actually know the difference between an information threat and a physical threat. So when we read a news story that creates fear emotion, or when we worry about our children’s safety – an automatic stress reaction kicks cortisol into high gear.
Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and is essential for proper metabolism of starches in our body. Too much cortisol causes fatigue, unhealthy food cravings and weight gain. Our addiction to upsetting news and endless worrying is causing our bodies to be totally out of whack. This is why we are exhausted all the time. We are not meant to live in a constant state of fight or flight.
Be a light, not a judge, be a model not a critic. Little by little your circle of influence will explode and you will avoid the emotional metastasizing cancers of complaining, criticizing, comparing and cynicism.
– Stephen Covey
If you reading this article, chances are high that you can relate to the idea of chronic stress. Most of us can. There are many wonderful articles on things you can do to manage stress, meditation, movement, music and healthy foods. But, I think you already know these things. Thus, breaking the stress habit is not just a matter of simply knowing what good things you need to do for your body. It is more than that. It requires us to take a deeper dive and evaluate what rewards we get for staying stressed out all of the time. Does it give us attention, validation, sympathy or something else? What is it that makes us actually want to stay in a state of stress?
Years ago Stephen Covey taught us about the Circle of Influence. I mention this model often because it has been so beneficial to so clients in learning about their lives. A core point of the Circle of Influence teaching is that when we focus on our concerns, our concerns grow. By contrast, when we focus instead on the few things for which we can do something about, our influence grows. For example, in our everyday lives, we feel pretty miserable when we talk about concerns with the global economy. We feel better when we instead focus on managing our own spending behaviors effectively. Let’s take this same model and apply it to our stress habits:
Work. When we focus on all of the problems of a project or the unhelpful people at the office, we experience more conflict. When we shift our focus to the small wins and appreciating the small efforts of support – we begin to experience smoother work days.
Parenting. When we focus on all of things that could break, hurt or corrupt our children, the more we see these things occurring in their lives. When we shift our focus to role modeling healthy relationships, the more we seem them select good kids to hang out with
News and Social Media. When we focus on global stories and decisions that are both negative and outside of our control – we feel overwhelmed or depressed and talk about how “everything” is broken. When we shift our focus to local stories that share uplifting situations, we change our conversations and talk about all of the good in the world.
If you are in the habit of chronic stress, your body is going to feel extremely challenged trying to exercise, meditate or eat healthy. It is simply too fatigued to make good choices. Thus, breaking the stress habit requires you to first re-direct your mental focus onto those things that are working well and within your direct sphere of control. By keeping your perspective on influence, not worry, you begin to decrease the need for self protection which helps your body be better prepared for engaging in the recommended activities for stress management. So, go ahead and lose the stinkin’ thinking. You deserve only the best in life. Get out in the world and have some fun.
Resources on Stress and Breaking the Stress Habit