November 12, 2013
Last week’s blog focused on research that suggests how we react to external stressors can be a primary determinant of whether or not stress makes us sick. It said that external stress comes from the stuff that life hands us.
This week I want to look at another kind of stress, one that comes from inside. That stress comes when I’m out of my mind (figuratively and literally!).
For most of my life people have commented on my high energy. For a long time I wore it as a sort of badge of honor. Until one day in my thirties, I was talking with someone and describing my first family vacation with my son and his dad. When I finished painting a picture of how strangely and profoundly well and free I felt during that break from my routine, my friend said, “Robyn, you just described what it feels like to relax when you’re only doing one thing at a time”.
I’ve come to understand that there’s a difference between high energy and living in a state that borders on hysteria. I can feel the difference in my body as soon as I start to ratchet up, attempting to do several things, or even two things, at once. There’s a tension in my body that no longer feels energizing. It feels disturbing and a little scary.
I’ve discovered that contrary to what my habitual thoughts are telling me—that I should be doing four things at once and be proud of it—when I’m multi-tasking (euphemism for out-of-my-mind) I make mistakes. I run into things, drop or break things, listen poorly (or not at all), bang my head or stub my toe.
When ratcheted up I’ve literally stubbed the same little toe on the same chair that sits in the same place three times within the period of a month. Around ten years ago I fell down a set of stairs landing on my head and the ultimate consequences were pretty devastating. A physical therapist asked me how that happened and I said, “I was out of my mind. I thought I was in a race to get somewhere that would have still been there 30 seconds later if I’d slowed down”.
The alternative to being out of my mind is attending to what I’m doing right here, right now. Doing one thing instead of two, or three, or four. What seems to happen when I’m really present and actually inhabiting my life and my body is that I’m pretty good at handling life’s ups and downs. Things that used to make my head implode or explode don’t seem to put me over the top anymore.
As evidenced by some of my stories, I haven’t mastered staying present and ‘in my mind’. I still ratchet myself up in response to stressful situations. But now I get that bordering on hysteria is not a state that serves me. So as last week’s post suggests, I not only have the option of seeing stressful life events as opportunities and challenges, I also have the ability to literally increase my odds of successfully handling them by being present and aware when they occur.
So as a dear friend suggests, slow down, do less, and if you can’t do less, at least be aware of what you’re doing!
I’d love to hear what you think about all this.