Our automatic behavior nagatively impacts our health
A significant amount of the human brain is wired to react automatically in the moment. Being able to respond quickly to a stimulus is a key survival mechanism.
If an angry bear comes out of the brush, our brain rapidly processing the threat so that we can turn and run is probably in our best interest.
If we’re not careful, our stress response can get the best of us.
This sort of caveman (or woman) response is still somewhat useful today, but that sort of automatic behavior impacts our health in a number of negative ways. When we are faced with stress, even if it’s not as life threatening as a potential predator attack, we drift into survival mode and look for some sort of relief. We might not be able to run from an angry boss, but we can reach for a candy bar or have an extra drink when we get home. And then we might skip the gym to watch more television and struggle to fall asleep that night.
If we’re not careful, our stress response can get the best of us and those automatic behaviors can lead to weight gain and inflammation.
Stop and assess the situation
To stop your stress in its tracks, you need to a call timeout. You need to stop yourself and assess the situation, stepping back so that you can think more objectively about how you are reacting. From there, you can challenge yourself to make the healthy choice, which might be going for a walk instead of eating a candy bar or perhaps it’s taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing.
I’ve talked about this method of mindfulness meditation in general in my free ebook, Stop. Challenge. Choose. Even though I’ve talked about these ideas for many years, I still see people struggle with their anxiety and emotions in the moment, and those struggles spill over into the rest of their lives.
Some tips to help
Here are some ways to make it easier for you to Stop. Challenge. Choose.:
- Schedule your “you” time. Set a reminder on your phone to take three minutes to yourself to just focus on your breathing, slowing it down and filling your thoughts with the act of filling and emptying your lungs. Eventually, you want to teach yourself to do this in the moment, but getting in one session a day of this can make a big difference.
- Keep a journal. Thinking clearly during a particular hard time is difficult, but if you reflect on where you struggled after the fact you will be more likely to handle the situation differently the next time it arises. Writing out some thoughts in a notebook can help with this and calm you at the same time.
- Set boundaries. For many people, their stress comes from very distinct sources. In general, you should be working to remove negative influences from your life, but if you can’t totally step away from a person or a career, establish buffers so that you can step away from these problem areas. For example, turn off email notifications during evenings and weekends.
- Use exercise as an outlet. You might not be able to go for a run in the middle of a stressful situation, but exercising after the fact can help to reduce the harmful effects of long term stress. With some of the residual anxiety alleviated, you will have a clearer head to work with from then on.
Stress is not an easy challenge to conquer, and living a completely stress-free life would be nice but might be outside of our own control. What we can do, however, is choose how we react to stress. The more we make the right choices on this front, the more we can address the stressful event and move on rather than slowly drowning it.