I generally describe stress as the feeling we have when we feel like we don’t have the capacity to cope with what is going on or that we don’t have the power to say no to what is going on.
From a physiological perspective stress is the feeling we have in our body when our fight or flight response is activated and remains on for long periods of time.
We often think of stress as being caused by things outside of ourselves – traffic, the demands of our job, juggling the different aspects of our lives, etc. All of these experiences definitely activate our fight or flight response and trigger the release of adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies.
In addition, there are activities that activate our fight or flight response that no one ever thinks about. Have you ever stopped to reflect on how many automatic patterns you have running at any given time that are activating your fight or flight response?
A lot of stress we experience or a lot of what we experience as stress in our bodies is self-activated fight or flight.
In my article, “Negative Thinking: Why is it So Hard to Change?” I stated that we become addicted to the release of adrenaline and we continually find ways to keep it flowing in order to keep our adrenaline receptors happy.
In my last article, “Are You Offended Easily and Often?” I shared how I became very aware of my “be offended” addiction and how this had become an automatic response for me. After paying attention to that I started to look for other automatic patterns that were activating my fight or flight response. I came to realize that I had many automatic patterns that were keeping my adrenaline flowing.
I discovered that I was addicted to arguing with my husband. What would start out as a discussion would rapidly turn into an argument. This had become an automatic pattern that was stimulating the release of adrenaline. I was shocked to see how automatic this pattern was. As I paid attention to this I noticed that the arguments needed to be escalated in terms of time and intensity in order for me to receive the adrenaline rush.
Another activity that resulted in a big adrenaline “hit” for me was getting out of the house on time. I became aware that I was experiencing a big rush of adrenaline as I struggled to get out on time. I am always late leaving every time for everything. It is only 3-5 minutes each time but this sets up the fight or flight response. As I race through one set of traffic lights to make up time the adrenaline is flowing. The “running late” pattern is automatic for me. Even when everything is going well and I appear to be on time, I end up leaving late. I am constantly fueling this adrenaline addiction.
I share these two examples with you because I want you to start paying attention to your automatic patterns that are activating your fight or flight response. Do this from a sense of wonder. Do this from the place of “Hmm, I wonder what patterns I have going on that activate my fight or flight response?” You don’t want to increase your fight or flight response from beating yourself up for having automatic patterns.
What are some other adrenaline addiction patterns? Procrastination is a huge addiction pattern. As you put things off, the adrenaline starts to flow. As you start to panic about meeting your deadline, adrenaline and cortisol are really flowing now.
Clutter is another huge adrenaline addiction pattern. If your house is full of clutter or if your desk at work is cluttered your fight or flight response is always activated.
What to do about these automatic patterns? The first step to changing these patterns is awareness. You can’t change anything until you are aware of it. As you become aware that the pattern is about to be activated, like an argument with your partner, take some time to do vagus breaths.
To do the vagus breaths, take a deep belly inhale for 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds making a pleasurable sound. Do several of these breaths. If you are someplace where making the sound out loud would feel silly, you can make the sound silently in your head and have the same result. Whether you do the pleasurable sound out loud or in your head, it is important to make the sound.
The vagus breath does two things. First, breathing in to the count of 4 and breathing out to the count of 4 for 4 breaths blocks the release of adrenaline so the fight or flight response isn’t activated. Second, with adrenaline blocked, oxytocin is released in women. Oxytocin brings forward a sense of peace in the body.
You can change the fight or flight response in your body. You can decrease the amount of adrenaline and cortisol flowing through your body. You can diminish the stress you are feeling. Simply start to pay attention to automatic adrenaline releasing patterns that you have going on in your body and take several vagus breaths. Keep at this. Your patterns will start to change. Your life will start to become calmer. Your body will thank you for this.