When stress is unrelenting, you can’t think.
You probably know what stress feels like. Your breathing gets shallow. Your heart rate speeds up. You may feel hot. These are some of the signs that your body is ready to respond to danger. It’s the classic fight/flight/freeze response and it’s a basic biological fact.
We don’t often talk about the next part of this. When your body is poised to deal with danger, your frontal cortex – the part of your brain that thinks things through, that uses logic to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions – that part pretty much shuts down. And that makes sense. Of course it does – it doesn’t want to distract you from reacting to the danger.
When you say, “I was in such a panic, I couldn’t think straight,” that is literally true. When you’re sensing danger, it’s not the time to get philosophical, and your brain knows it.
Calming Your Brain
Fortunately, there’s a very simple way to change that. By focusing on your breathing, you can re-engage the frontal cortex so you can think clearly again. It doesn’t have to be deep breaths, although they can help, but just noticing your breath, as you breathe in and breathe out, can make a big difference. You can add a smile – or even just a half-smile. Both of those steps let your brain know that you’re safe, you’re not going to die right now, and it’s ok to start thinking again.
When the stress you’re experiencing comes in waves, when it is unrelenting, you may find yourself feeling constantly tense and on high alert. That can cause a new level of problems, from high blood pressure to burn-out. You need a lot more than a few breaths. You need time and space to look at your thoughts and feelings, to be able to share them, to challenge them, and to reconnect with your most resourceful self. In fact, you need a place to ponder.
Ponder – to spend time thinking carefully and seriously about a problem, a difficult question, or something that has happened; to contemplate
Defining Your Place to Ponder
When your work involves trauma, finding your very own place to ponder is essential. Maybe there’s an actual place where you feel relaxed. Maybe you need to be around a particular person, or people. Maybe you just need the time to breathe for a little while. What you need may not be exactly the same as anyone else, but it’s important to find that time and space. When your work involves trauma, it’s essential.
Using R.E.A.L., with me as your coach, we begin there. The Discovery process guides you to really look at who you are and where you stand right now. In Reconnect, we help you bring your life into alignment with your inner self. Next, we Explore the range of tools available to use to maintain your balance and alignment. We determine if you need to Add skills to your toolbox. Finally, we help you bring your new-found sense of who you are to Let your life shine.