WHAT IS SO DIFFERENT ABOUT ME?
The answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING……
Have you ever wondered why something can cause you to feel like everything is crashing down around you while other people seem to be totally unfazed?
The perception of stress changes from person to person and what one person finds stressful, another person will not. As a first step, it is essential to understand how our brain responds to stress. If you have read my first blog you will now know the reasons why our ‘Fight and Flight’ instinct activates. You will also understand how stress motivates and protects us and you will now know the problematic effect that prolonged stress has on our body and mind.
Now, let me bring you on a little journey to gain an understanding of why coping habits can be different among people who are experiencing a similar experience.
Our perception of stress is complex and is influenced by an interplay of genetics, biology and life experiences. When we experience or even see something, our brain lights up with activity between millions and millions of brain cells that communicate by signaling to each other. If theses brain cells are repeatedly activated, this chain of activity forms neural pathways that result in certain thoughts, behaviours and emotions around that experience.
Take for example, a person who has had a traumatic life event or even a series of upsetting experiences. This negative experience will send a message though specific neural pathways to signal the ‘Fight or Flight’ centre in the brain and this activates another chain of neural pathways that may increase anxious feelings and the person may even begin to anticipate something bad will happen in perfectly safe situations. This is the basis of how habits are formed and this is where a big warning sign comes in!!!!!!!!!
If these reactions and thought patterns are unhelpful, stress will become problematic. Overtime it becomes a cycle whereby we continue to use skills that do not help us, we experience on-going stress and we learn to expect life events to be stressful.
OK ENOUGH TALK ABOUT NEURONS AND STUFF, TELL ME WHAT THIS REALLY MEANS ???????
Let’s use this analogy to understand what this is all about:
Imagine that you are walking the same path through a field every-day. Gradually the grass will eventually grow on either side of the path you take and that regular path will become the easiest one to follow because the path becomes worn and embedded in the mucky soil. One day you are walking down the path like you always do and there is a huge rock in the way. When you try to climb over the rock you hurt your knee. The following day you do the same thing and climb over the rock because it is easier than finding a new path in the overgrown grass. In doing this you hurt your knee again and each day it is harder to walk. You start to become anxious about the pain that is being caused by the path you choose and feel somewhat helpless. You may become preoccupied and overwhelmed with the task of creating a new path in the overgrown grass and in the end you avoid taking any path at all, you simply give up and become stuck where you are. Whether you cope with this problem by avoidance or becoming overwhelmed you never really figure out how to get to solve the problem and continue to feel increasingly stressed.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MANAGING MY STRESS?
Each neural pathway that is created in our brain will result in a behaviour or coping skill. If that pathway is repetitively used coping behaviours will become automatic or habitual. Our brain is complex but amazingly adaptable. An area of particular interest in mental health and recovery is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasicity refers to the brains ability to change its structure and form new neural pathways (how the cells communicate) depending on what behaviours we choose to use and even what thoughts we think. The choices we make may ultimately contribute to changes in the balance of chemicals our brain produces and balancing these chemicals (dopamine, serotonin etc) will have a big impact on how we feel and experience the world.
THIS IS WHERE THE GOOD NEWS STARTS…
If our brain has the ability to literally rewire new connections through our choice of coping behaviours, doesn’t that mean that we have a greater choice in how our brain works?
This is true but it takes time. It is thought that it takes approximately 90 days for new neuronal pathways to form. It will take longer for these pathways to become embedded, behaviours to become automatic and habits to form. This means that changing unhelpful behaviours is possible, just like creating a new path in the overgrown grass. It might be difficult to cut through the grass at first but if you keep at it with the right tools and effort it will become easier and gradually the path with the rock on it will begin to grow over.
CHANGE IS NEVER EASY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It involves changing your mindset, your thought patterns and your behaviours. By arming yourself with this knowledge you may even begin to reflect on what you would like to change and why.
Firstly you need to believe that you have the ability to make that change no matter how big or small it is. Over the next few weeks I will build on each blog to empower with the tools to make small steps to change how you manage stress through specific biological, psychological, nutritional and lifestyle changes.
I will start with, ‘Hugging a Tree’. ‘Are you for real?’, I hear you snigger. Yes I am 100% for real, but you will have to tune into the next blog to see the reason why connecting with Nature if an easy achievable place to start your stress management.…………………….
Never forget that your journey to increased self awareness may not always be an easy one. Remember to reach out for help from people you trust and professional services along your journey because that is what they are there for.
‘Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere’ (Erma Bombeck).
– Una Cotter