Last week we considered a common fundamental quandary that my colleague and neuroscientist, Ms. Janina Scarlet delved into with us:
Most people can recognize that they are happier, more relaxed and essentially thrive when not experiencing stress. While this is true, why do you suppose that some people choose to live their day to day lives allowing themselves to be ruled by stress when they could enact behaviors that would prevent it?
Now that we’ve looked at a neuroscientist’s perspective we’re going to explore the research and experience of my dear friend and trusted colleague, neurolinguist and changework expert, James Cervelloni. James has guest posted here at Reaching Beyond Now several times now. If you’re familiar with how he thinks and practices, you’ll be equally intrigued with the introspection he’s sharing today.
Let us know what you think, we L O V E when you comment here! Let’s get a discussion going now.
James’s thoughtful response to our question above:
Observations from a disturbed Neurolinguist:
A certain amount of stress is normal. Of the different temperament types, some tend to be more prone to it than others.
And it’s a well established fact that too much stress is detrimental to our health and happiness. That being said – what’s up with us humans that we create so much more psychological stress than is necessary?
Well, unlike our animal cousins, we humans have been blessed with a brain having the ability to reason. And, while it’s an amazing super-power to have, like Spiderman learning to swing from skyscrapers, we manage to slam into lots of mental *stuff* because we swing around our minds rather clumsily, accepting as literal fact much information that, upon investigation, would be proven incorrect. (I think Mr. Slugman, my creative writing teacher, would call that sentence a mess.)
When it comes to creating stress, (or any other thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) much is driven by the unconscious influences of our beliefs; beliefs in ourselves, our capabilities, and our view of the world. So, even the ability to reason sometimes can’t measure up against the force of well established beliefs.
Maybe I’d better start by defining what I mean by beliefs:
“Beliefs are information – neurologically encoded within the brain – in such a way that it becomes statements about reality that we think or feel are true.”
It’s our data base of reality statements that structures our view of ourselves and the world, and drives our behaviors within it.
The level of psychological stress associated with an activity or event is proportional to the degree with which an individual believes they will be effected by said activity or event. The amplitude of the stress correlates positively with the meaning of the event, that is, how important they believe the outcome is to their well-being. So, the greater the magnitude of all that, the greater the perceived consequence – and the more intense the stress. (Wow. What would that look like as an equation?)
In every case I’m aware of, how people create stress is strongly dependent upon their beliefs around themselves and the world. If beliefs such as “I’m not capable, or good enough, or, life is too hard, or, I need approval from others to be okay…”, and similar self-limiting beliefs are operative, stress is increased tremendously because of the perceived difficulty or consequences of failure.
People prone to excessive stress, like worry and anxiety, live mostly in the future. They’re stuck in a recursive loop of scary future stories. And that’s where stress becomes psychological. Because the story isn’t real; it’s made up. Excessive stress is often accompanied by a distorted sense of time – what I call ‘Time-Disease.’
Victims of this condition are living in fear of what might happen. The symptoms, while driven mostly by unconscious influences, almost always include a fast talking voice. This voice tortures them continuously by posing scary “What if” questions “What if I’m late /I fail / I lose my job, etc.” or by dictating imaginary ‘rules’ in the form of “You should do this / you have to do that…”statements, or making limiting comments like”You’re too stupid / you’ll never make it / you can’t do it…”
It’s interesting to note that those living more in the present moment, with a pervasive “All-is-Well“belief, tend to experience little more than what could arguably be called normal stress levels; especially when compared to those swept up in time.
So, with all the stress relief gurus and techniques out there, why do so many people choose to live stressed-out?
I wondered about that, too.
Turns out it’s not really a choice.
Having choice implies awareness of one’s beliefs and values. That’s important because most people go through life on auto-pilot, never knowing what drives them.
It really has more to do with motivation. I discovered that many people with persistent stress problems believe they need stress like fear, worry, and negative self-talk to push them into taking action – and to remain on the lookout for possible danger.
The purpose of their stress is motivation, and the intention of their stress is usually protection of themselves or people and things important to them.
It’s called a “move-away from strategy.”
Imagine being chased by a lion. The closer the lion is, the harder you run – lest you become dinner. As you gain more distance, and the perceived danger lessens, you may begin to relax a bit and slow down. But you must be on the lookout for the next hungry lion, ever ready to take off running again.
The result of this learning process is the creation of your preferred move-away from strategy; after all, it worked before, didn’t it? If you hadn’t been all worried and stressed-out and vigilant, wouldn’t you be umm… old lion food by now?
But enough of lions for now; they have fleas. What about me?
I was really stressed about having to write this article. I mean, what if everyone ridicules at me and I lose my practice and I starve to death on the cold lonely streets? I should have done a much better job writing it. I was supposed to keep it short.
And what if there are lions under my bed? I’d better not fall asleep.
Missed Janina’s response? You can read it here.