What do you tend to do when you’re feeling stressed out? If you are like me and most of my clients, your natural inclination is to try to make the stress go away. So you probably struggle with it… You tense your muscles and push yourself harder believing that when you have fixed your marketing plan or hired more team or improved your skills or something else, your problems will be solved and then you will be able to relax.
But the result of this stress-relief strategy is EVEN MORE stress until you feel like you’re going to explode with anger or literally have a nervous breakdown. You are like the fly caught in the spider’s web, not realizing that your struggle to set yourself free is what dooms you.
It’s not your fault really. The problem is that a part of your brain is dedicated to survival. Within the walls of your head, there is a biological stress response system that is the biggest enemy to your well-being.
When you are tormented by perfection, obsession, insecurity, overwhelm or other forms of stress, you probably think it’s your circumstances creating it. So, you look for what’s wrong - not enough clients, not enough team, not enough marketing...
But it’s really not about any of that.
It’s about the stress network deep within your brain that is constantly on guard to protect your survival.
And, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you are walking down a back alley and someone tries to mug you, this “stress response system” will save your life. It was this very same survival system that kept our cavemen ancestors alive.
Imagine you are a primitive man, in the forest and you see a bear approaching you. You are programmed automatically to react to this sign of danger. When you see the bear, your “Acute Stress Response System” is triggered within the Limbic System of your brain, sending signals to the Adrenal Glands to flood your body with Adrenalin and Noradrenalin. This rapidly increases your blood pressure, your heart rate and enables you to take immediate action.
As you run away from the bear or fight the bear, your brain triggers the “Chronic Stress Feedback Loop”, triggering your sympathetic nervous system to flood your body with the stress hormone, “Cortisol.” This shuts down non-essential systems for immediate survival, for example your immune system, your reproductive system, and your digestive system.
Now, once you outrun the bear or fight yourself free of it, your brain tells your body to turn off the “Chronic Stress Feedback Loop” and to resume normal functioning. Your parasympatheic nervous system is activated to calm you, allow you to heal and rest, and you may even feel a sense of hunger to refuel your body with energy.
This basic safety mechanism is built into all of us and we don’t want to turn it off. It’s very useful for our ability to survive dangerous situations and it is programmed to peak and then fade away when the danger has passed.
Now, come back to you as a modern day business owner and imagine that the stress that you feel when something goes wrong in your business or you simply have too much to do and feel overwhelmed is akin to seeing the bear in the woods.
It’s actually a normal response to have an “Acute Stress Response” that gives you the added energy that you need to consider your options. Yet, when you begin to struggle and fight with the situation and the stress that you are feeling, your brain translates that into fighting or fleeing the bear and that triggers your “Chronic Stress Feedback Loop”. The more you fight, push, struggle, the more your brain gets the message to keep the stress feedback loop ON. This results in chronic headaches, inability to sleep, lost concentration and focus, weight gain (as your body attempts to store energy), reduced sex drive or even the inability to conceive (if you are a woman).
The more you allow your Chronic Stress Response System to run amok, the more your brain LEARNS to activate it and keep it running. You literally condition yourself to create and increase the level of stress that you are feeling, and so desperately want to get away from.
This is why so many business owners have the “habit” of being stressed-out. They’ve literally taught their brain to be this way.
So if you have been dealing with a lot of stress and you feel a little bit like you stuck your fingers into an electric socket, the first thing to do is learn how to reset your nervous system and you can do this by triggering what Psychologist and Harvard University Researcher, Herbert Benson coined, “The Relaxation Response.”
The Relaxation Response refers to the point at which your brain tells your Chronic Stress Response System to turn off. Here you consciously trigger the parasympatheic nervous system to calm your body, allow you to rest and resume normal functioning.
What is critical here is to trigger the Relaxation Response without slipping into a struggle with the stress you are feeling. Triggering your Relaxation Response should not be done with the intention of making your stress completely go away. Sometimes that will happen and when it does, enjoy it.
Yet, most of the time what will happen is, in addition to feeling the stress that you feel, you will also begin to feel a wave of calm… and just as that wave of calm arrives, you will be able to choose to focus your attention on meaningful and effective choices to improve your outer circumstances.