Our bodies are wonderfully constructed to keep us alive and out of danger without relying on our conscious thought, which has other higher functioning tasks to do. An unexpected, sudden, loud noise? We jump, not “on purpose,” but involuntarily. Our bodies take care of alerting us so we will be prepared to take action. Ancient structures deep within the brain tell us, “Wake up! There's danger.”
Fear is a good thing. So is some stress. Yerkes-Dodson law proposes that we perform best at an optimal level of arousal; exceeding that optimum level results in a decline in performance. Think about studying for an important test or preparing a “make or break” business deal. In these instances, we understand the potential effect on our “survival” in our academic or economic lives. Here, our thoughts encourage stress. If we manage to function at a moderate level of stress, we'll perform well.
However, when our thoughts include fear of failure, alienation from friends, unrealistic time pressures, a sense that we are not in control of the situation, or that performance equals self-worth, our bodies can shift from optimal stress to anxiety. We may experience nervousness, irritability, apprehension, a sense of impending doom. Without addressing the negative, self-defeating thoughts, we may even shift from anxiety to panic.
It is vitally important to address the validity of these sometimes unconscious thoughts in order to shift back to a productive level of stress. Do this with your therapist and you will gain greater control of your stress responses.
There are behavioral actions you can take at any time that complement your work with me. Actions that physically communicate to your brain that it is time to relax, that there is no fast-approaching danger. For a few of these, make sure to see Secret Weapons in each newsletter of 2012.
The terrifying monster lurking behind the closet door or under the bed has tremendous power over the imaginative child. It can force him to make choices based on fear: turn out the light at the door and run for dear life and leap on the bed, pulling the covers over his head. We can be forced to make similar choices based on fear, choices that leave us unsatisfied, unfulfilled and frightened. The monster with all this power can become a dictator, one who winds its way insidiously into our lives each time we give in to it.
Feeling harried again? Do you wonder how you can possibly keep all those plates spinning on the sticks you've placed on your stage? You think you can multi-task and get more done? Harrumph! Research shows otherwise.
There are some simple ways to calm your world and be more productive, no matter how many demands there are on your time and your emotions.
1. Breathe. Take a deep breath. (I'll teach you how to do that in another blog, but for now, do your best.) A good breath (or four) helps us slow down physically and mentally. Get ready to focus.
2. Prioritize. Identify all the "things" you have calling for your attention. Then, slowly, mentally or in a written list, prioritize them. Focus your attention on only the first on your list, aware that the others will be addressed when this one is accomplished. Whenever you begin to think of something else on your list, tell yourself (out-loud helps) that it will wait for you, tell it to stop interrupting you. It's rude to interrupt.
When you try to spin all those plates at once, panic sets in, tension builds, and you're probably not a very nice person to talk to. Take off the plates, lay down the sticks, place all of them safely on the stage, and turn your attention to only one. You will finish that task more efficiently and much quicker because your whole attention is on only that one.
3. Move. Make sure you take a few minutes to get your blood pumping through physical exertion: a walk or run, some stretching or calisthenics. Any form of exercise relieves a lot of mental and emotional tension. While you exercise, think of the exercise itself. Imagine the blood providing fresh oxygen to your muscles and your brain, making you stronger, smarter, and more relaxed.
Each of these steps involves "mindfulness," focusing on the activity at hand. (More about that in a later blog, as well.)
Three quick, rudimentary steps taken right now can make your day more productive and more relaxed.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.