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.
Marilyn Miller, MS, LPC ~ Psychotherapist
...Delighting every day in helping people find peace in their lives, relieving anxiety, depression, and promoting self-care.