Let’s talk a little bit about stress and add a little fresh perspective to our understanding of this state. Why is this discussion so important? Simply, because it is clear that stress pollutes our internal and external environments. I am going to play around with two quotes later in the article.
But first I’ll offer a question for your consideration, here it is “Why do we allow worry, fear, anger, and anxiety to rule our lives and cause dis-ease in our minds and bodies?” Just keep that question in mind as you work through this article.
Here is the first bit of wisdom, made popular by the recovery movement:
“One day at a time.” The Big Book
Here is the second quote and one I adore, from Shanti:
“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.”
Here is the quick answer to the question “Why do we allow worry, fear, anger, and anxiety to rule our lives and cause dis-ease in our minds and bodies?
The amazing human brain, while capable of sending people to the moon, also has a primitive function that “protects” us. In some crazy, warped, gobblygook way, the primitive mind convinces us that danger is imminent, and we, naively accept it and respond accordingly. As learning machines, we assign meaning to our experiences, which further anchors and automates stress responses.
The fact that the primitive mind (Bob) activates our fight, flight, and freeze responses to prepare us for danger is likely not news to you. I am fairly confident that you do not spend your day being chased by tigers. Very few of us are in the imminent danger that would justify the uncomfortable experiences we create in our minds and bodies. Let’s replace all the clinical jargon that comes along with the physiological symptoms of the unjustified stress response and simply call it “freaking out.”
The activated stress response aka freaking out state causes a range of problems. For one, we cannot connect with our original potential if we are in this mode. There is no logic in trying to solve a problem when we are unable to concentrate, focus or be creative.
In addition, a chronic highly aroused state is implicated in a range of problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, addictions, and suicide. To say that stress is a silent killer sounds trite but many of our hospital beds and therapy couches are filled up by people with stress-related disorders. Stress causes more havoc than germs do. Chronic stress is exhausting and draining.
Just as an aside, maybe to explore another day…there is a good possibility that we may even see stress states as a badge of honor. Being fretful proves that we are conscientious, ethical, and moral right? If we don’t respond to the challenges of the daily grind or upheavals of life’s catastrophes with highly aroused states then maybe we are signaling our apathy or lack of commitment to resolving them.
Through the ages, before the Big Book and Shanti, wise philosophers have spoken of the mind-body connection and the damage that stress and worry cause. But I don’t think we as a species have really taken this to heart.
So, what are we so stressed and worried about? What’s taking all of our precious energy? Most often it is rumination about the past and anxious anticipation of our future. We are like garbage collectors reaching back into the past for references (see role model article on mind files) that impede our progress, while at the same time looking out into the future but being weighed down by the heavy bags of garbage we drag along. Aren’t we silly to drain and exhaust our resources this way?
Let’s have a look at the quotes and see how we can play with them a little bit to serve us here:
Is one day at a time just for addicts?
Hell, no, it can be wise words for anyone experiencing stressed states. As I say in the first workbook, life can be messy and change can be hard. When we lack belief in ourselves and are having difficulty managing life’s challenges, living in the moment with purposeful intention is a healthy choice. For many, asking the question “How can I use the next twenty-four hours to bolster me?” can be stabilizing. A simple decision to live the best we can in one 24-hour compartment can help to decrease the freaked-out state.
The practice of one day at a time is very much consistent with the idea of becoming the CEO of one’s life. I write about protecting and caring for the future self in the second workbook, and I speak often about the importance of having realistic goals that stretch us. Yet, the reality is that if we have conditioned an acute stress response, it is almost impossible to draw on the concentration and creative thinking that is needed to look beyond today. There are times when putting one foot in front of the other and “making” it till bedtime is a realistic goal.
This has to be one of my favorite little quotes and I think it offers great wisdom. For me, it is reminiscent of being a little girl, getting into mischief, having adventures in the woods, being on my bike, and exploring the big world of my small neighborhood. I was a tomboy and often spent my days racing around barefoot. I remember very well what it was like to go to bed spent, tired, looking like a ragamuffin but feeling extremely pleased with myself and my day.
Now, as an adult, when I think of going to bed at the end of the day with dirty feet, messy hair, and my eyes sparkling it automatically impacts my state in a positive way. This encourages me to ask the question “What can I do today to generate that wonderful feeling of a “good tired” that comes from a well-spent day?”
Feeling tired because we have been busy living well, is a very different experience than feeling drained because our mind and body have been battling a freaked-out state that should be reserved for running away from tigers.
So “why do we allow worry, fear, anger, and anxiety to rule our lives and cause dis-ease in our minds and bodies?” We aren’t being chased by tigers, and yet along the way, we allow stress responses to become automatic, conditioned, and easily triggered. We know a freaked-out state is hard on the mind and body and yet patterns persist. Could adopting the wisdom of one day at a time or the intention of going to bed with dirty feet, messy hair, and sparkling eyes be helpful?
I encourage you to spend a little time finding a quote that resonates with you.
Terri Lee Cooper MSc. RSW