Rough Seas Ahead

Rough Seas Ahead

It doesn’t take rocket scientist to see that we live in a stressful world.  No matter who we are, we are exposed to hardships and turmoil almost on a daily basis.  Some people definitely have it better or worse than others, but we all are exposed to various aspects of stress.  How we deal with that stress, defines who we are as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, workers, brothers, sisters and human beings. The way we deal with the stress is known as a coping mechanism.  Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy.  They can be effective or ineffective.  The issue is that coping mechanisms that we think are effective may not be effective after all.  As it turns out, very few coping mechanisms are truly effective.  

Effective Coping Mechanisms

Most stress reduction classes talk about deep breathing and massages as being effective coping mechanisms against stress.  Although everyone loves a massage, coping mechanisms that don’t deal with the root of what is stressing you out are only temporary relievers of stress.  Understanding the underlying psychological underpinnings of your stress are the keys to effectively coping with the stress.  Developing cognitive strategies that replace negative, self defeating thoughts with positive, uplifting thoughts help us to take stress head on and conquer it.  Obstacles that cause us stress become challenges that we overcome instead of something insurmountable or scary.  This coping mechanisms is called cognitive re-training.  You can practice this technique everyday, but you need to work at it just like any other type of training.  

Non-Effective Coping Mechanisms

The trouble with traditional coping mechanisms is that they don’t work.  But even worse, they trick us in to thinking that they do work.  Even the so called healthy coping mechanisms like going for a run or getting a drink to relax, only mask and delay our effective coping mechanisms from working properly.  If a child is scared of monsters in the dark, you don’t go into her room and make her do jumping jacks or give her a shoulder massage to relieve her stress.  You turn on the lights and cognitive re-train her brain into seeing that there is nothing that is gong to hurt her.  In a similar way, you must do this in your own life.  You must re-train your brain into seeing stress for what it truly is, a self-manufactured entity that needs to be dealt with systematically and without emotion.

Despair Disillusionment and Over Driven Reward Systems

 We have come a long way as a human species.  As I mentioned in previous articles, around 70,000 years ago, we underwent a cognitive revolution that propelled us well beyond the scope of any other animal on the planet.  This cognitive revolution was both a blessing and a curse, because it allowed us to believe in systems that did not visually exist and gave way to our modern technological society which has virtually eliminated infectious diseases and child mortality in most of the civilized world.  However, with this advancement came a disillusionment of our own biological selves.  We have lost touch with what we truly are s humans, and our bodies have paid the penalty. Our technology in the form of television, video games, social media, instant gratification through shopping, has put our reward systems (dopamine) on overdrive.  We constantly need new and more exciting stimulation because we never have periods of rest and recovery.  As a consequence, we are constantly stressed and pushed towards a state of wanting more and more.  Moreover, life style diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases, suicides, alcoholism, opiate addiction; all these types of illnesses have made it to the forefront of human evolution.  Couple this with an insatiable appetite for media consumption which over drives our brain’s reward system, and you have a recipe for disaster.  It’s no wonder that our Nation’s life expectancy keeps decreasing in recent years.  For the first time in history, our children are slated die sooner than we are.  This should be a wake up call to us all that something needs to be done.  The research suggests that an overwhelming majority of humans are in a state of despair, or what I call a chronic stress response.  This leads to the above mentioned conditions and and worst of all, leads to a degrading quality of life that we pass on to the next generation in perpetuity.  Something needs to be done.

Resilience 101

Basic Underwater Class 89  made famous the SEAL motto, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”  If I had to name a motto that would sum up what resilience is all about, it would have to be that motto.  Resting on your laurels should never be part of resilience.  Humans always are looking for a challenge, that’s what we do.  That’s how we got to where we are today.  Think of the resilience that was necessary to cross an uncharted ocean back in the 1400s on a wooden ship.  That was the norm back then.  No satellite navigation; no Sea Tow.  Adopting a resilience posture and knowing that rough seas will always be around the corner sets us up for a challenging and rewarding journey into the unknown.  By building ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually on a daily basis, we are ready for whatever life will throw at us.  We learn from our mistakes and use effective coping mechanisms to navigate through the perils of our lives.  

Assignment and Reflection

Take care of yourself this week.  Use your technology wisely and judiciously.  Spend time with your family without technology, in the presence of pure nature.  Remember that 99 percent of stress is self manufactured.  If the stress is not going to kill you instantly, such as a bus about to hit you, then you are hurting yourself by letting your emotions get the best of you.  If you feel like you need stress in your life, take up an activity that will naturally challenge you in a healthy way instead.  Remember that whatever you do and plan to do, life will always throw you a curve ball.  Remember that making lemonade out of lemons and always being prepared for rough seas is the key to being resilient.  Easier said than down but “Leaning into it” is the only way to truly live your life to the fullest.  

Dr. N