We’ve all said or done things in the heat of the moment that we later regret. Whether it’s yelling at our partner or kids, getting escalated during a meeting, or snapping at our aging parents; we’ve all been there. It’s not a fun place to be.
When it’s happening we feel angry and frustrated. We might even become physically heated (hence the saying hot-tempered) and red in the face. Our breathing becomes fast and shallow. We might feel as if we aren’t in control and say things we would never say otherwise.
So if we know that we do this and feel bad about it after the fact: Why does it keep happening?
Because it’s our bodies natural way of reacting to stress.
When we experience stress our body naturally responds in one of three ways:
We become angry and want to fight our way out of the situation
We want to run away from what is happening as quickly as we can
Our bodies freeze and we don’t know how to respond or can’t respond
The brain scientists out there call this our fight, flight, or freeze response.
It’s our NATURAL way of responding to stress. Yes, I know I’m yelling at you but I want you to understand that there’s a reason this happens and that we all do it. You aren’t alone.
Knowing we aren’t alone might give you some level of comfort but we still know this isn’t a fun place to be. Some of us have even conditioned our bodies to live in this place. When that happens the stress response begins to cause our bodies to always be on alert and work way too hard. This can lead to dis-ease in our bodies because of a weakened immune system, inflammation and illness.
OK, now that we know what stress does to us: What can we actually do about it?
We can recondition our brains and bodies so that our natural way of responding to stress is no longer an F word (fight, flight, freeze). Don’t get me wrong - we still want to hold onto those three responses for when we are in real danger. We just don’t want that to be our go-to any longer for when we run out of coffee beans, lose our phone, or get asked a stupid question (you get the idea…).
But how do we recondition our brains and bodies?
Allow me to share two tools that have been helpful for me. In my coaching practice I’ve shared these with many of my clients and they’ve often found them the most helpful of all the tools I’ve shared. Bonus; they are incredibly simple techniques and their acronyms make them easy to remember.
The first is a mindfulness technique called the STOP Meditation. It’s mindfulness based as it helps to bring you back to the present moment (instead of worrying about the past or future), back to your body (instead of being swept up in your thoughts) and gives you the time to calm down before you over-react.
Here it is:
T. Take three (or more, if needed) deep breaths
O. Observe your body (where are you tense? what is happening with your breath?)
P. Proceed with mindful awareness (instead of reacting to the situation you can now respond).
This easy to use tool has helped some of my clients with the stress of parenting, manage a challenging boss, and better handle crisis situations. It truly works.
The second tool is very similar in nature and comes from the iNLP (Neur-Linguistic Programming) Center.
NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which is essentially the study of how your brain responds to stimuli. The iNLP Center has coined the acronym AHA as a helpful way of reconditioning how your brain responds to stimuli.
Here we go:
This method allows you to recognize when an external stimuli is impacting you (positively or negatively). Once you have the awareness that your mind-body reaction has kicked in, you can teach yourself to halt. In the halting you have the time to think through the situation, address any old patterns you might be wanting to change, and then finally act from a more controlled place.
These two tools can help you cultivate more mindful awareness throughout your days. They can also help you better manage your stress so that you are calmer and more resilient in the face of daily challenges.
How can you STOP today and have more AHA moments? What do you have to loose? (hint: stress, anger, overwhelm and more) Share your comments and stories below.