A few years ago I took a life change index. Basically, I measured my stress level by looking at major events happening in my life over the past 12 to 18 months. I should be dead.
Most researchers agree the top five stressors are death, divorce, moving, major illness or injury, and job loss. Of course, there are many more highly stressful experiences. On this particular index, numerical values are given to each life event. It’s a simple assessment, check off the events and add up the values. A score under 125 indicates low stress. A score between 125 and 250 is the middle range. When the score is above 250, stress is high indicating immediate and regular stress reduction is needed. When the score is over 300 chances of illness increase eighty percent. Stress can manifest in difficulty breathing, panic attacks, sleep problems, fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, indigestion and so much more. Stress is costing us!
I Should Be Dead
My score on that particular day — 546. Five hundred, forty-six. Twenty other people were in the room taking this same index. The ones among them truly stressed-out were at 248 to 253. I should be dead. At the time I took this index, I was in the middle of a divorce from a 30 year marriage, moved away from my loving and affirming community, left the job of my dreams and ended up having an emergency appendectomy. Stress makes us sick.
Stress is a very normal reaction to our everyday pressures. All of us deal with stress on the daily. When stress becomes chronic, our biological responses begin to impair our physical health, as well as our mental health.
Alarm System in Our Brain
The amygdala is the alarm system in our brain. It puts us on red alert when it detects danger. Unfortunately, it interprets most of our stressors as red-alert-danger. When the amygdala flips the switch our rational brain gets turned off and our emotional brain automatically takes over. It’s like the burglar alarms that cannot be disarmed manually. The alarm system corporation has to switch them off at headquarters and they cannot switch it off until the police have arrived. What a marvelous system to have in our brain when we need to jump out of the way of a bus moving at 60 mph or when the toddler is running toward the street or when an 18-wheeler veers into our lane on the highway. I’m just guessing those are not the things you are stressing about right now. Yet, the alarm system is going off.
Breakup with Our Emotional Brain
You may feel like the stress response in your body just automatically kicks in and you are in a full on meltdown or panic. And you are right! Consider doing what some of my clients do — send a “Dear John” letter to your amygdala. Seriously, write a letter to your brain expressing your appreciation and reassuring it that you’ve got this. It might sound something like this:
Dear Emotional Brain, I really appreciate your desire to keep me safe. You have done a great job so far. Here’s the deal, I really only need you to jump in when I’m hunting grizzly bears in Colorado or hiking though the Australian outback. The truth is I’m an able-bodied adult and am perfectly capable of managing the dangers in our day-to-day world. I have access to lots of resources and feel good about managing my day-to-day without you automatically taking over. Thanks again!
Understanding and addressing the mind-body connection facilitates a shift in our automatic response. At the very least, we know what is happening and can pause, breathe, express gratitude until the amygdala has shut off the alarm.
Reframe Our Thinking
Our thoughts influence our emotions which in turn influences our actions. Our actions bring us the results we are currently experiencing — stress. Reframing our thoughts around a stressor can help us manage emotions which will reduce our stress level. When I think, “I can’t make enough money. Money is hard to come by.” The feelings produced by those thoughts are overwhelm, defeat, and helplessness. The actions generated by those feelings, at least for me, are doing absolutely nothing, ignoring the problem, avoiding the solution. You can already imagine what the results of those actions are — no income. Nothing about those thoughts brought the results I wanted. It’s essential to reframe our thinking. Partnering with a coach is a great way to excel at reframing thoughts.
No matter how good we are at reducing stressors, we’ll never be without stress. Improving our ability to cope with the demands and the emotional effects is a necessity. Make a plan today to find ways to reduce your stress, your health depends on it.
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