"There is more to life than increasing its speed."
~Mohandas K. Gandhi
A caveman was walking through the jungle, club in hand, searching for dinner. He heard a twig snap and turned his head in the direction of the sound. There behind a bush he spied a saber toothed tiger. He froze. The tiger and the caveman eyed each other, each thinking "Mmmm dinner". Then, inside the caveman's body, a strange thing was happening...the Fight or Flight Response. His heart began pounding, his breathing quickened, his pupils dilated to sharpen his vision and his hearing became more acute. Danger was near.
The tiger charged the caveman who, with one swift blow of his club, killed it. With that one motion, not only was the tiger dead, but another change was overcoming the caveman's body...The Relaxation Response. His heart rate returned to normal as did his breathing. His vision and hearing returned to normal, and his body relaxed. The danger had passed and dinner was at hand. Now...fast forward to today...
I was in a rush to get to work this morning and wouldn't you know it, I get behind someone on the expressway going exactly the speed limit...in the left lane. My initial thought was "Why me? Why today?" Argghhh!
First I looked for an opening in another lane so I could pass him on the right and glare at him as I did so. No such luck. Too much traffic. Then I pulled up behind him as close as I dared. He didn't take the hint. My heart was pounding and my breathing was shallow as my hands gripped the wheel. The Fight or Flight Response had begun. Now what?
I have given many presentations on the dangers of stress, and as my words passed before my eyes, I decided to take my own advice. Breathing deeply, I relaxed my grip on the steering wheel, backed off a few car lengths and decided that calmness was an option...so I took it. I shifted my paradigm. Instead of being angry about the possibility of being late, I breathed slowly and deeply and repeatedly told myself that I would arrive in time and everything would be fine. It worked.
Unfortunately, the Fight or Flight Response still exists inside us. Unlike the caveman, we usually don't fight or flee. We internalize. There is no release, and the stress we experience is not replaced with the relaxation we would feel if the "danger" had passed. Instead we carry the thought of "danger" with us along with all that stress. Our heart rate and blood pressure remain high, blood rushes away from functions like digestion, reproduction, tissue repair and the immune system. And all of this leads to illness and dis-ease in the body.
While the Fight or Flight Response served prehistoric humans, it does not serve us today. But you can change it quite easily by breathing deeply and repeating "I am calm. I am relaxed. I am in control".
When you find yourself going into stress mode, try the following:
- Take a deep breath, hold it for 4 seconds and exhale through your mouth slowly and completely.
- Repeat the deep breathing for up to 10 breaths.
- Repeat "I am calm. I am relaxed. I am in control" until you feel calmer.
- In essence, by doing the above steps, you are fleeing from the stress you have created.
It is All In Your Head.