Never in history have we had such comforts and ease of living. Our grocery store shelves are stocked and we can cook a meal in minutes. We can communicate with family and friends around the world instantaneously and face to face. Modern conveniences make our day to day life easy. Then why the heck are we so stressed? The reason is because of this technology, and our limbic brain. I have been preaching this a long time and recently spoke about it. Now newest research by Dr. Marc Schoen, psychologist and faculty member at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, has proven it.
Much of technology is a helpful for our life, but it has also taught us impatience and a demand for perfection. We expect everything to be immediate and when it is not we become stressed. “I have to wait three minutes for my Starbucks coffee. Oh, the humanity!” We expect everything to be perfect and the exactly the way we desire it and when it is not we become stressed. “You bought full not skim milk? My life is ruined.” We are less patient with people, timetables, and the natural cyclical every changing way of life. Everything in our life becomes a stressor from traffic, to our cable being out, to our favorite snack missing from the vending machine, to slow internet. None of this is life or death, but we feel it is.
Although on the outside we are living a better, more comfortable life, our limbic brains are telling us something different. Our limbic brain is our survival brain. This is the part of us that reacts unconsciously to danger. Back in the day when a tiger appeared, if we used our logical minds to decide what to do, we would quickly become lunch. “Oh look a tiger. It has pretty stripes doesn’t it? It seems to be salivating. The tiger must see me as food. If that is the case, perhaps it is time for me to leave this place.” Chomp. The limbic brain is set to survival. It sees a tiger and activates our legs in the opposite direction before we realize consciously what is happening.
What has happened in our modern age is that our limbic brain perceives inconveniences with the same intensity as life and death situations. We become fearful and anxious in traffic, when we forget someone’s birthday, or when the boss is headed to our desk. The problem is that when our limbic system kicks in it sends all of our energy to our muscles so we can fight or flee. In doing so, it shuts down those things we use on a daily basis, like our digestive, immune, and reproductive system to conserve energy. Then because we see everything in our life as an apparent danger, we are constantly in a state of alert. Our cortisol levels are high, our daily systems are shut down, and we begin to have stress related illnesses.
This leads us to look for something outside of our self to reduce our stress. Due to the media and our current society, instead of seeking measures which truly alleviate our stress level, we unfortunately turn to maladaptive habits for relief. Dr. Schoen has uncovered maladaptive habits people use which I often see in my clients. Two maladaptive habits are choices, consciously or unconsciously, that we make. First are obsessive habits; those obsessive compulsive disorders large and small, from triple checking that the door is locked to repetitive washing. Second are addictions to food, alcohol, sex, television, shopping, and a whole host of seeming pacifiers. The next two maladaptive habits are ones that occur in our bodies. We develop sleep disorders and insomnia. Or we have chronic illnesses, colds, flus, headaches, and stomach aches. The last of the maladaptive habits Dr. Schoen identified are avoidance habits like the fear of crowds, flying, or going over bridges.
The question is if these maladaptive habits are not helping our stress, what can we do?
For true stress relief, it is necessary to consciously choose new healthier long-lasting and truly effective habits. Unplugging, getting sleep, deciphering between real and imagined fears, learning patience and acceptance, and focusing on what we have not on what we don’t. Stress relief is very simple, but not easy. Over the years we have created deep pathways or grooves in our mind. We have programmed our minds to unconsciously respond with our maladaptive habits. The simple answer is to create new habits, new pathways, and new grooves. It is simple, but it does take time to create and program into our minds.
To receive help in reducing your stress, download a free chapter of From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It.