I asked a group of professionals recently about how often they worried. It was no surprise when they indicated it was a regular part of life for them, as was stress. And when asked what great achievements have come from this ongoing commitment to such practices, there was silence.
There were no benefits, rather just the opposite was true. Not only did their worry consume precious time and energy, it literally was sucking some of the life right out of them. It was creating an ongoing state of stress.
As one would guess, these professionals acknowledged without hesitation that they could give themselves a headache if I requested them to do so. Unfortunately when I asked them if they could also rid themselves of a headache, the response was not as quick, confident nor positive.
We’ve all heard that stress is a killer, and so it is, though usually a slow and agonizing one. Biology basics make this clear, in addition to showing how the elimination of stress will not make for a vital life or one of greater well-being. For the absence of stress only gets us to point neutral on the scale of well-being.
Dr. Bruce Lipton, biologist and author of Biology of Belief, explains why. Our body performs two basic functions for survival: growth and protection. Growth involves the replacement of billions of cells everyday. Protection mode sounds the alarm to threats, like stress, activating chemical responses and redirecting energy.
The catch to these basic functions is that the body cannot perform them both simultaneously to an optimal level. That means something’s got to give. And that something is your growth, your maintenance. Threats to our system take priority, leaving us to slowly wear out.
Reality is that we live in a world where we allow stressful situations to be prevalent. Lipton describes this existence as one in the “Get Set” mode. “Our hyper-vigilant lifestyle keeps our body primed for action,” he says, much like that of a runner on the starting line.
When runners are in “Get Set” mode, their bodies release adrenaline that powers their muscles for the race ahead. While waiting for the “Go” signal, the body strains in anticipation. That strain lasts only seconds on the starting line, but if it were prolonged, Lipton explains, the runners would physically collapse within a minute despite their conditioning and toned muscles.
So why do we do this to ourselves? At the root of stress and worry is fear. Much of fear, if we are honest, is what my colleagues and I refer to as False Evidence Appearing Real. It resides in our reflexive subconscious mind, driving our behavior without reason. In other words, our subconscious doesn’t distinguish between a real threat and a false one.
I’ll admit it, I’m afraid of snakes. The level of stress they cause me is something you don’t want to experience. However, intellectually I know that not everyone is afraid of snakes. Some people have them as pets, play with them and wrap them around their bodies. There aren’t a lot of poisonous snakes in Vermont, so my fears are pretty much unfounded.
If you could take a few steps back, truly distance yourself from a worrisome situation, a similar realization might emerge. And at the very least, you, like our professionals mentioned previously, would have to admit conjuring up worry and stress contribute nothing to the desired outcome. Quite the contrary, it’s a waste of your very being, your lifetime.
It’s not an easy habit to break, for we are so good at allowing stress to take over our lives. Even if we did a total life transformation, creating whatever we believe to be the ideal existence and removing all the current sources of stress, we’d find new ones. It’s a mindset we’ve adopted.
The fact is, as so many of my blogs conclude, stress is as much a matter of choice as is our lifestyle. Earl Nightingale so succinctly captures the essence of this choice:
“Like a garden, so grows the mind. It will grow what ever you plant. We are what we think.”
No matter the situation, you can choose to think differently, and in so doing reduce stress. You know this intuitively. Take the next step and practice it.
Anita Ancel is President of Ancelary Group, a Vermont firm that helps CEOs and their teams develop attitudes and habits for ongoing success and happiness.