“It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.” ~Hans Selye
As I drove home from work, I was focusing on my business when another car sped up in front.
This is quite normal in Sydney traffic. I usually just brush it aside.
Today is different. For some reason I couldn’t explain, that simple event set me off. I got so irritated that I pressed both my hands on the horn and started shouting at the other driver—who just gave me the finger and continued on his merry way.
That’s when I lost it. What dares he to do this?
It was my goal to make him pay. He needed to learn a lesson.
To prove my point, I got so engrossed in anger that I nearly caused an accident.
This is not the proudest moment of my life, but I do know.
Do you remember going through this kind of thing? What happens when something seemingly insignificant suddenly escalates to insane proportions?
My neighbor was yelling at someone from his balcony the other day, as he was blasting gangster music out of his speaker. Okay, I can understand that you don’t agree with his musical preferences, but is this a reason to pick a fight with a stranger?
On Christmas Eve in a packed supermarket parking lot, I got whipped by a woman for touching my car’s door. She was trying to help me get in the store while I carried a few grocery bags. It was difficult to not jump into her throat.
These kinds of events happen to everyone, I suppose. It happens. You lose your temper and start shouting at your children at the supermarket’s food court. Or, you snap at your partner for loading the dishwasher the “wrong way.”
It’s almost as if everyone has a Mr. Hyde who is waiting to emerge.
Why is this happening? What can be done to stop someone from killing themselves?
The thing is that the “event” in itself is never the root cause of a rage fit. This is the final drop of a full cup.
For instance, the day of my road rage episode, I was going home from a day that didn’t go as planned. While driving, I was ruminating on the things that didn’t work and I was already on edge.
When the driver behind me cut me off it unleashed something already in progress. And if it wasn’t this event, it would have been something else.
It was stress that caused me to not be my best.
You know what else? Everybody is constantly exposed to stressors. We are constantly exposed to stressors such as worry and anxiety, conflict in relationships, existential crises, poor lifestyle choices and background noises, stimulation, and overload.
This means our cups never run dry. And if we don’t deal with it, we’ll always be one drop away from overflow.
It seems unrealistic to believe that stress can be eliminated completely.
No. This kind of expectation only leads to stress. You’d be stressing about not getting stressed.
How can we live better lives?
There are two ways to fill your cup: You can either empty it on a regular basis or increase the cup size.
This is called stress-relief strategies. You do these things on a regular basis in order to release steam.
This allows you to forget about your troubles and gives your body the chance to settle down. During this time, your body shifts from “fight or flight” to “rest and digest” mode, which is necessary to replenish your energy and recover from stress.
The key word in this sentence is “Regular.”
These strategies won’t work if your brain is already full.
Nope. These should be an integral part of your self-care routine. My suggestion is to create the habit of blocking off space in your calendar for a little “me time.”
I know what you’re thinking. “Are you kidding? I don’t have time for that.”
Self-care should not be a luxury. It’s a must. It is necessary for your safety and that of those around you.
You may find yourself unable to relax after deep tissue massage for an entire hour. Those are the times you get restless, lose sleep, and can’t function properly. That’s why you need to build a bigger cup (or a bucket) so that you’re better able to tolerate potential stressors.
Simply by investing in mindset skills, you can upgrade your cup. You will learn skills to manage stress and deal with difficulties. As a result, you’ll be able to take more on without going cuckoo.
It’s like developing a superpower.
How? Here’s a little framework that can help you respond more wisely to stressful situations and minimize unnecessary stress.
1. Being aware
Awareness refers to being aware of what is happening in your brain and body. It’s learning to identify emotions and feelings, thought patterns, and responses (how you react when something happens).
This way you’ll be able to discover what sets you off and put a stop on knee-jerk reactions that you may have on autopilot.
You might notice that you become angry when you are disrespected. This could lead to an acid comment from you. You can choose to be aware and rethink your response.
2. Practice mental hygiene
Mental hygiene refers to going through the mental rules of our brain and deciding what’s useful or unnecessary.
Based on a variety of past experiences, the mind makes mental rules. The thing is that these mental rules end up defining how you’ll respond to an event in the future. That’s how we get stuck in vicious cycles.
We create rules about how things “Should” be done, how people “should” act, how they “should” respond in certain situations, how the world “should” work… With so many ideas of how things should be, we end up living in defense mode, constantly fighting against everything our mind judges as “wrong.”
To move on, you’ll need to learn to let go.
One example: I had a rule that my brain said, “Everything must be tidy.” This was a result of growing up with an organized father. While I was living on my own, this worked perfectly. It became an ongoing source of conflict when I was living with my partner. My Mr. Hyde often came out when my partner’s behaviors went against my internal rules. In order to live a happy home life, I decided not to follow this rule.
3. Modifying the rules
Truth is, all beliefs have a purpose. They serve as the guide for our actions. If we are going to remove a rule from our lives, it’s important to ensure the subconscious need is still being fulfilled.
To be able let go of that rule, I needed to question why I was keeping things organized. After a bit of soul-searching, I realized that if my environment is clean and organized, my thoughts and emotions are processed more effectively. This made me feel more in control over my own life. It helped me to put everything in perspective and developed new guidelines.
Now, I allow myself to make things neat, but I don’t obsess about it anymore. That means that I don’t get upset when my husband leaves a dirty sock here and there. It is important to have a calm environment. Other ways I found to be in control of my body and mind were to practice meditation and build an exercise program.
Now I want to ask: How full is your cup? What can you do to avoid spillage?
If this’s all very new to you, you could start by creating a self-care routine that helps you empty your cup on regular basis. You can also upgrade your cup if you already own one. This way you’ll be less likely to explode over little things.
Oh, and don’t get put off if you have slip-ups. Stress management can be a learned skill.
Carla Torres, a mind-body coach and has over 12 years experience in the fitness and health industry. Bodypeptalk is her creation. Her unique, systematic approach helps people to make lifestyle changes for a healthier, happier, and more comfortable skin.
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