Our emotions are raw.
Everywhere we turn, it’s right in front of us. There is so much to fight for, to protect, to honor. There is so much at stake. It can feel like everything can be gained or lost every moment.
Our bodies and minds are on high alert, every day, around the clock.
It’s simply not sustainable.
The human body is designed to protect itself - it’s designed to survive. Any perceived threat to safety activates your body’s fight or flight response, flooding the body with chemicals to give you the best possible chance for survival.
This process is intended to be switched on and off within moments or maybe in extreme circumstances, hours – to conquer or escape the danger and move on.
When the switches stay on, you become depleted – physically, intellectually, and emotionally exhausted.
Creativity declines, your ability to solve problems and innovate decreases, you have very little bandwidth to connect meaningfully with people around you, and your body’s immune response begins to diminish.
In short, it’s costing you more than you have to give.
In truth, it’s not the passion, the fight, or even the fear that’s getting the best of you.
It’s the endless stream of thoughts and conversations about the passion, fight, or fear that are dragging you under.
And that, my friend, is something you can control.
So how do you stand strong for the things you believe in, help foster positive change, and fight for what you value without living in fight or flight constantly?
Fighting the battles without living the war.
Close your eyes and imagine that there’s a room in your brain where you store all your values. Whatever they are (justice, kindness, loyalty etc…) create an image that represents each one and place it in the room.
Now imagine that there is also a giant chest in the room with an iron padlock for which you have the only key. This is your armory - the tools you’ve developed over your lifetime to defend what you value.
Open the chest and look inside. Be specific about what you see. Do you write, speak, argue, fight, attend protests, lead by example? Don’t judge what’s inside. Simply notice and name each tool.
Close the lid to the chest and mentally place the key in your pocket.
This week, each time you feel triggered or stressed by something you read, hear, or see, notice the stream of stories that flood your mind:
1. Pause and take a few breaths and bring yourself into your value room.
2. Match the feeling you’re having with one or more of the values without retelling any of the stories. Simply say, this feels “unfair,” “unkind”, “disloyal” etc.
3. Next ask yourself the question, “Is there anything useful that I want to do about it right now?”
a. If the answer is no, proceed to #5
b. If the answer is yes, remove the key from your pocket and open the chest. Carefully select what you would like to do (write a letter or FB post, engage in a conversation, plan to attend an event, etc...) and do it. When you’re finished, proceed to #5
Take a few deep breaths and release any thoughts or stories that remain by visualizing them exiting your mind with each exhale. Next give your mind something productive to work on by moving on to some other aspect of your life.
When your mind attempts to engage you in rehashing any story attached to a trigger, simply re-ask yourself the questions “Is there anything useful that I want to do about it right now?” and follow the steps from there.
The goal is to train your mind to choose action when it serves and to acknowledge that when action doesn’t serve, neither does the accompanying story.
Initially, you may need to repeat this exercise several times in a very short period. That’s OK! Keep practicing and you’ll find that you’re actually accomplishing much, much more with far less stress.