We most recently considered a common fundamental quandary that my colleague and neurolinguist, James Cervelloni broke down for 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 both a neuroscientist’s and neurolinguist’s perspectives, we’re going to hear what friend and colleague, Ms. Lauren Ampolos of Realivze Health has to bestow on us. Lauren, a specialist in biofeedback, is quite versed in helping her clients create change! Also, an advanced doctoral candidate in clinical health psychology, Lauren’s response offers us an integrative understanding of what drives our stress.
Let us know what you think- we L O V E when you comment here!
Lauren’s thoughtful response to our question above:
Christine, this is a great question! If I had a dime for every time someone said, “I’m so stressed out,” and then refuted every suggestion to actualize change, I’d be rich. I think the main theme you’re hitting is that change is often rejected. My opinion is that this phenomenon occurs not only because making changes in life can be very difficult, but it can also be really scary! We create different patterns (some healthy, others unhealthy) for ourselves to cope with stress (e.g. the way we respond to our environment, like how we feel when we open the mail and see a bill we can’t afford to pay, how we respond to conflict, what we do with our time after work, how we feel when we have to pick up the kids from school, take them to their activities, cook dinner for the family and make sure everyone gets their homework done, et cetera), and it allows us comfort because we know what to expect when we do what we’ve always done. As humans, we tend to do anything we can to avoid discomfort, but sometimes that causes more issues in the long run! In a lot of ways, we end up settling for less than what’s good for us because “it’s kind of working.” Arriving at a place where we learn to be mindful of our patterns of stress, accept that they exist, and at the same time actively work to facilitate healthy change takes a lot of work… especially when our biology is thrown into the equation, and it drives us to continue doing what we have always done (again, because it’s comfortable).
In terms of how we can fall into patterns, let’s work through an example from above: how it feels when we open the mail and see a bill we can’t afford to pay. When you open the bill (or even before it’s opened!), a variety of feelings might come up – shame, guilt, sadness, helplessness, anger, fear. However, these are uncomfortable feelings, so you might choose to ignore (avoid) these feelings by tossing the bill aside or throwing it away (which obviously doesn’t solve any problems). You also might choose to actively do something to make yourself feel better, like zone out on the couch in front of the television, drink alcohol, eat sweets, et cetera. That might be helpful for the time being – you’ve rid yourself of the evidence that you have a bill to pay, you’ve pushed away uncomfortable feelings, and actively engaged in forgetting all about it! So, problem solved, right? Not quite… the bill still comes again next month, the month after that, and sometimes collectors begin to call as well. The stressor isn’t going away unless you practice acceptance of uncomfortable emotions, and plan ahead so that you can create a new pattern – a healthy response to stress!
In our society, we have so much on our plates that engaging in positive activities to reduce stress in our lives can feel unproductive, selfish, and sometimes even impossible because we already have “so much to do!” When I work with clients I try to challenge them to ensure that they are living meaningful lives, because so much of what we do in a day doesn’t align with what is actually important to us. And, when people are engaging in activities that they don’t find meaningful this also creates more stress, so it’s a double-whammy! When you’re stressed on top of stressed, it’s obviously even more difficult to actualize change, as stress can be paralyzing. My advice to anyone struggling with too much stress would be to first start with awareness, then put in some work on the front end so you can create healthy ways to deal with whatever life throws your way – and, yes, this includes a great deal of acceptance, which will come with consistent practice!
Want to hear what James and Janina had to say? Check them out here.