We live In High-Stress Times
I don’t have to tell you, you already know. Life comes at you from all sides. Tugging, pushing, squeezing. It’s relentless. Literally, everyone is trying to rip you off and take every penny you have. Credit card companies and banks clamor to take even what you don’t have. Worst of all your time often gets confiscated without consent. When we feel we’re not in control of this most important asset anxiety enters our lives and permeates into our day. It does for me anyway.
The part of our brain responsible for emotional processing is the amygdala. It takes the stimuli like a saber-toothed tiger charging at you and decides whether or not you need to freak the F out and run back to the cave. If that’s the case – it shoots a message over to your hypothalamus which activates your nervous and adrenal response. Your adrenal glands go Defcon-4 and pump out adrenaline. This happens lightning fast. Your heart rate increases, oxygenated blood gets pumped to your brain, organs and limbs – nutrients get released. Your blood pressure rises, breathing rate increases, pupils dilate, small airways in your lungs open. You’re ready to smack that M-cker on the head with a rock and run back to the cave!
We live in a world where that doesn’t happen. You don’t hit the tiger and get away. This tiger ends up chasing you around, all day, every day. What happens when the brain perceives continued danger is that the hypothalamus now sends another hormone to tell the pituitary gland which it ain’t over. The pituitary gland then messages the adrenal glands to release another stress hormone – cortisol. You may have heard of this one. It keeps the body revved up and on high alert.
Evolution made sure this lizard brain stayed with us because it was essential for survival. Ironically, what preserved us in the past is killing us today.
People of all ages are living a perpetual cortisol fuelled fight or flight existence. The effect on health and well-being is staggering. Ever wonder why you seem to retain very little in spite of your best efforts to read and better yourself? You can thank cortisol for its effect on learning and memory. Heartburn or stomach ache? Cortisol. Sexual dysfunction and infertility? Yup you’ve guessed it. A lot of modern-day blights can be linked to stress – hypertension, high blood sugar and diabetes, insomnia, low sex drive, anxiety, depression.
So what can you do about it?
For one, you can medicate, but that’s just either masking a problem or trading it for another. According to a study conducted by the OECD, Canadians are amongst the most prolific users of antidepressants in the world. This is particularly alarming as according to this University of McMaster Study – antidepressants have been linked to all sorts of problems like Alzheimers and a high incidence of premature death. Mental stress can also be managed through an active release of the mind. We must break apart the vice that is constantly tightening around our minds, and by extension – our bodies.
A lot of our stressors are problems because we givethem the space and prominence to live in our heads. They are problems because we allow them to be. A lot of those issues are out of our control, yet we let them get to us. That is why we must look inside, figure out what really matters, and discard what doesn’t. We can do this through meditation and visualization.
Journaling as Meditation
By practicing daily journaling you are making a deliberate attempt at decluttering your mind. You empty it and spill all the chaos onto a piece of paper. Don’t worry about structure but do make an attempt to go deep. Explore the meaning of what you’re feeling. Assess the importance of things that worry you and ask if they’re really in your control. If not, banish them from the crammed studio apartment that is your mind. Putting this ritual into practice will give you room to get to know yourself.
In this new headspace, you can start bouncing questions. Who am I really? What is important to me? What isn’t? What am I good at? How can I improve? Why should I? You don’t have to write all these out but you should ponder them; try it with your eyes closed. The goal is self-awareness and even more importantly – an acknowledgment of that awareness. Now that you know where you are, you know where to start. So in your journal, you acknowledge you’ve been overeating and put on a bunch of weight. You realize that this is because of stress; it takes you 2 hours to get home from work. You rage daily as you are stuck in traffic. You wanted to make it on time to spin class but here you are in a parking lot that is supposed to be a highway. You’ve found the source of your rage, now ask your self: Is this something I can control?
Once you’ve figured out what you can’t control, you can use your journal to focus on what you can. It is important that you put these ideas on paper so even if bad ones come to you at first, its ok to jot them down anyway. Following the example above, you can hash out solutions. Maybe you can leave work a bit earlier and skip the traffic? Commit to it on paper. If you cannot leave early – maybe knock out that workout at lunch? Feel like those 2 hours commuting home are wasted? Listen to an audiobook, or call your mom. The solutions are there, you just need to acknowledge them.
Keep Yourself Accountable
You know what to do, but do you do what you know?
One of the most powerful benefits of a journal is using it to keep yourself accountable. You should make a habit of re-reading your journal periodically. You’ll note if you’ve made good on the promises you’ve made to yourself and if you haven’t – explore why you haven’t. It is also important to celebrate and appreciate your progress and achievement. Successes, if they are recognized will tend to snowball into bigger accomplishments.
Journaling is an excellent way to regain control of your life and dramatically decrease the factors causing every day stress. Not only is it a great way to meditate the stressors away, it is a great tool in reaching the type of minset necessary for continued positive progress.