Your body has two engines running in your central nervous system – the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic. Whenever you engage your sympathetic nervous system and jolt your muscles with adrenaline you, temporarily, shut down your parasympathetic one – the one managing your immune system and fighting to keep you healthy and disease free. One is on and one is off.
Today, our modern lifestyle, has the normal office worker “shooting up” with adrenaline and a complex chemical bath every time the irate boss calls, a customer fires her, when competing for a promotion, and hundreds of other ways. Our central nervous system does not discern that these stressors are really not life threatening. It assumes the threat must be real because you send all the same signals primitive man did many moons ago.
Instead of being run down by a sabor toothed tiger most of us are simply “run down.” According to Hans Selye, the guy that actually invented the term stress, this is serious stuff. He said, “My research appears to indicate that humans have only a limited supply of deep adaptive energy. Most of the energy expended in the stress response can be recovered through rest. But a certain amount of this energy resource may be irretrievably lost. For this reason, it is important to reserve this adaptive energy for those occasions where the issues are significant and not to squander it on trivial conflicts.” Yikes.
Your body is yours to manage. Slow down and reflect. This week, I was reminded by Eric Potterat (former SEAL psychologist) that mental toughness really comes down to managing your stress response. Stress, remember, is neutral. More stress than you have capacity to handle is called “distress.” When you routinely think you’re overwhelmed, we call it “hyperstress.” You red line. Not good. Eustress, however, is the sweet spot of the stress curve where the level of stressors are just beyond your current capacity. As you reach, you grow. Eustress is good stress. By the way, if you live in the stress free zone, you will soon be bored and inventing stressors to keep yourself from going nuts.
How well are you managing your routine stressors? Are you increasing your ability to handle what once had you running? Are you learning to calm and soothe yourself instead of flying off the handle, so to speak? You choose. Your choices have consequences. And, remember, when you’re being run by your sympathetic one you have a hard time hearing and an even harder time learning. So, if you find yourself unable to recall the words from a recent hard convo, it might not be age related senility but stress related sympathetic. The mentally tough not only manage their stress response, they seek eustressors out like a bee does honey. The mentally tough build capacity by running toward challenges just beyond their current reach. Get out of your comfort zone, friend. Reach. When you go too far and get overwhelmed, breathe. Reset your central nervous system by applying the “Theory of 4’s breath control.” Google it.