From personal experience and from observing my clients, I have found that we often habitually slip into patterns of reaction related to the stress response when we’re under pressure but not in danger. In other words, even if stressed from juggling kids, work and our job, we may slip into the fight, flight or freeze response and become scratchy, argumentative or downright confrontational. Alternatively, we may become overemotional or go numb.
Any time you slip into the stress response unnecessarily, you can impact your health negatively.
The gift of awareness allows us to catch ourselves before our relationships, work prospects or health are damaged. Here are some thoughts and guidelines to consider.
If you’re under extreme pressure, do you tend to:
- Become angry;
- Want to escape;
- Freeze into inaction?
You may not have the same stress response to all situations. For example, when you are faced with a rude or obnoxious person, you may find you become silent (freeze); but when overwhelmed by multiple tasks you may want to withdraw and let the chaos pass (flight); or when someone cuts in front of you in traffic you may get angry (fight).
The key is to know yourself.
When you know how you react under extreme stress under different circumstances, you can observe yourself as stress builds and recognize your early warning signs of stress.
First you need to know how you are as the fight response escalates. The dialogue in your mind (this isn’t fair; they’re wrong etc.); how your body feels (tense, jaw clenched, shallow breathing etc.); your emotions (tearfulness, fury etc.). Take note of your mild, moderate and extreme fight reactions in each category (mind, body and emotions). Then go through the same process with your flight and freeze stress responses.
Lastly, you need to have an absolutely foolproof strategy to break the stress response pattern. This will be something that works brilliantly for you every time you apply it (but may not work for anyone else). You may need to repeat a calming phrase such as “I’m fine, they’re nuts” or “I can handle it”. Then find something that will directly link your mind and emotions to something or someone that gives you a warm feeling of love (for a person, place or pet). Lastly, have a practice that instantly changes your physical state. This may be deep rhythmic breathing, jumping on the spot, doing the cross crawl or drinking a glass of water.
Now you are armed with tools to intercept the unnecessary stress response (i.e. when you are not in true danger); to change how you think and emotionally and physically feel before your stress reaches harmful levels. This is a gift you can repeat for the rest of your life!
In the process, always be kind and gentle with yourself.