Stress is (Making Us) Stupid

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“Stress is making us sick, stupid, and slow,” Emily Fletcher.  What better way to add to our discussion on anxiety than to talk the actual science for a minute.  On a basic level the body is in constant flux with different chemicals (hormones) being released from specific organs and flooding the brain which then interprets what’s happening.  Stress is no exception.  We have a very real, physical reaction when it comes to the things we feel and this is why different self-help guides talk about the importance of emotional control.  Beyond the social component of maintaining composure, there is the physical element of protecting your mind and body so you can determine what is actually happening around you versus your perception of it. 

The human mind and body are not designed to function under constant stress and in an age of 24/7 stimulation and drive, we are lowering our capacity for patience, broader outlook, and our health.  We have so firmly engrained the pattern of constant connectivity in the last two decades that people can’t be without their phones, TVs, tablets, computers—any source of “connection”.  While we’ve closed the distance around the world, we’ve created a gorge in connection—connection with those present, connection with nature, connection with spirit, connection with ourselves.  We’ve taken a beautiful tool, a luxury, and have idolatrized it into necessity.  We’ve created such importance around it that we’ve lost sight of what’s right in front of us.  We’ve willingly injected the electronic addiction into our lives.  Again, I’m not saying that we don’t need it—we absolutely do.  But our interpretation of HOW we need it and HOW we use it have greatly skewed. 

Additionally, we have the addiction of approval, the addiction of belief, the addiction of pleasing, the addiction of fulfillment of a specific dream.  “Addiction is defined as a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.  People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences,”  asam.org.  And yes, any one of the behaviors listed above can be addictive.  We have found an external source of stimuli and validation and we feel we need it.  We feel there is no other way.  People can even be addicted to stress.  The rush they get from constantly being needed or constantly being on the move.  But what is it doing to our minds and bodies?  Cue Emily Fletcher.

So while we feel these things are necessary and we use them to satiate things like anxiety and depression (even though it only adds to anxious and depressive thoughts), they are taking their toll on us mentally and physically.  We lose reaction time and the ability to process information.  Stress hormones put extra strain on our bodies through weight gain (cortisol) and over production of the adrenals (adrenaline).  Too much of those things in your body leads to issues with the thyroid, the pituitary, the heart, the lungs, and the brain—and that is only an example from two hormones.  It has an impact on reproductive hormones and muscular response as well.  EVERYTHING is connected.  Spending too much time in anything can prove detrimental to us, and again, stress is no exception. 

The overall key here is to not allow yourself to fall into these patterns and that means paying attention to recognize when you are leaning toward stress over presence.  Check in often.  So many of us (myself included) waste too much time finding ways to stress ourselves out.  We do things that don’t light us up because we are under the impression we have to.  We misalign with our true purpose and trade it for what we think we need.  I’m not talking about being uncomfortable or trying new things, I’m talking about repeating the same pattern continually in spite of knowing it isn’t what is needed.  Please don’t discount the impact that has on your entire body. When you feel stress, pause and ask what your body is telling you.  Don’t allow it to overwhelm, but hear what it has to say and then align with your center.  It takes tremendous courage to break those habits and get out of the routine we think is normal.  We need to stand up for ourselves and do what works for us.  Disconnect with the rush of the world and center in who you are.  You will feel better immediately.

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