Feeling stressed and overwhelmed?
The other night I came home after a long day of driving back and forth across town driving and picking up my son, (which is a two hour journey, everyday) dealing with my physical therapy (from the dental incident that I had months ago) and I had three back to back client sessions; everything moved so slowly. To top it off the guy in the dark green pick up truck flipped me off because I wasn’t parking fast enough, yes it was one of those days. I had been bumping up against challenges all day long and was totally feeling exhausted and frustrated. Nothing could shake me from my funk - not even cuddles from my son, Adrian or the adoring licks from our dog Jackson. I even cringed away from a kiss from my gorgeous husband - and trust me when I say that never happens.
I found myself staring blankly at a fridge full of fresh ingredients, attempting to will them into a delicious and nutritious meal without touching them. I knew that I had to make dinner for Adrian and my husband, and you could hear my stomach rumbling over the piano session Adrian was practicing in the next room, but my feet remained firmly rooted to the spot while my stress, anxiety and resentment bubbled to the surface. And you know me, I can’t live with resentment...
I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed about life - especially when the idea of “having it all” comes with the proviso that you somehow manage to do everything for everyone around you - in fact these feelings are so deeply rooted in our lives that even mild stress can provoke our ancient amygdala, triggering a fight or flight response, turning a simple dinner into an anxiety-ridden challenge.
These feelings of stress come about because we develop a mental block. We become stuck in a fixed mindset that feels as insurmountable as scaling a skyscraper with your bare hands and the only way to get past it is to start changing our mindset and developing new neural pathways.
Our brains are hard-wired to be lazy and become easily distracted, which definitely isn’t helped by having so much technology at our fingertips. It remembers activities we do regularly and turns them into a habit without considering if the habit is actually beneficial to our lives. It automatically flits between thoughts and activities, driving us to attempt to juggle multiple tasks at once. Never a good idea to drive, text, and talk to your child in the back seat all at the same time!
While this automatic wiring was beneficial for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, in the modern world of smartphones, social media and 24/7 connectivity, juggling too many things at once generally just leads us feeling overwhelmed and making really bad decisions, then we get stuck in that same old mindset.
So what are neural pathways?
From the moment we open our eyes as a baby and start reacting to stimuli, our brain is sending information along invisible roads to elicit a response from our body while cataloging the experience so we can learn from it. Smiling at mom is good, touching the hot stove is bad, get it? The way this information travels through the nerve cells is the neural pathway.
As we get older we’re still forming new neural pathways with each new experience, but our brain will automatically try to default back to the well-worn path. Have you ever pulled into your driveway after work with no memory of actually driving home? Your brain was on autopilot, taking your usual route out of habit with your brain only operating enough to react to the variable conditions like the other cars changing lanes or traffic lights.
If I were to take a different route home tomorrow my brain would create a new neural pathway. The old route would still be recognized in my brain but over time the new route would become the habit.
How are neural pathways linked to our mindset?
While it’s easy to see how our physical actions can create neural pathways, it’s our minute internal reactions that we don’t notice forming habits. If you start seeing dinner as a painful chore then the neurons are going to be firing to turn that mindset into your default response. The more we fall back on that same frame of mind the more ingrained it becomes as a habit in our brain.
Changing your mindset means you’re forcing your brain to develop new neural pathways as you step away from your usual habits. When we’re able to “upwire” our brains’ processes we are less likely to experience the stress that comes with feeling stuck and unmotivated.
How can changing your mindset be beneficial?
While we might crave deadlines we don’t really do our best work when we’re stressed. We tend to rush into decisions or split our attention in too many directions to be effective in any one area. The more we pile stuff on top the more we’re likely to feel anxious and overwhelmed which can also affect our decision making and general mood. It can be like trying to line up a row of dominoes while wearing that super cool bohemian loose sleeve shirt - you feel as though you’re doing the right thing but everything just keeps tumbling down, those sleeves are in the way, darn!
By changing our mindset we’re able to approach decisions and activities from a different direction, allowing us to tackle the issue with fresh eyes and eliminate the feelings and processes that cause stress and anxiety. It also helps us feel more balanced as we’re making smarter choices throughout the day.
Try these hacks to start changing your mindset and reduce stress:
1. Find a way to enjoy it
When we like doing something our body releases endorphins - and your body is always going to prioritize things that feel good over those that don’t. So whenever you approach something that is giving you anxiety remind yourself of why it’s important, find a way to make it fun and if all else fails give yourself a treat or reward afterwards - at the very least your body will recognize that good things come after it is finished! Sometimes I like to ride my bike for exercise, because it’s not everyday that I want to exercise, but I know after I ride my bike I always feel better!
2. Approach the challenge differently
Don’t rely on your automatic response in every situation. If you’re feeling anxious about something try to find a new way to approach it that will have a positive effect. When staring into that fridge give yourself a challenge to combine unusual ingredients or make it a time trial to test your skills. Breaking our patterns creates new neural pathways and stops us sinking into those same old ruts.
3. Confront the issue
If you’re dreading making dinner every night be sure to really think about why that is. Do you wish you had more help in the kitchen? Does it eat up too much of your time? We can only affect positive change when we understand the negatives so figure out the core issue and work at changing your mindset until you get a positive response.
4. Stop trying to multitask
As I’ve already mentioned, multi-tasking is a hotbed for stress. Stop thinking of your to-do list as one big job that must be done all at the same time. Break it down into easily actionable steps and take a moment to appreciate how good it feels to achieve each steps and reward yourself - even if it is just with a mental high five.
5. Allow yourself to keep growing
Changing our mindset is a never-ending process. We’re always going to lapse into the same old feelings and routines, so the key is recognizing that they’re detrimental and taking steps to change them any way!
If we can keep developing new neural pathways to help us fight stress and anxiety then those nights where we’re stuck in front of the fridge on the verge of yelling at the kid(s) for no reason will be a distant memory - admittedly with a fairly familiar neural pathway. YES!
Before becoming a Certified Bulletproof® Coach I dabbled with hacking my brain and body, now it’s all I do! I love getting the most of it, I’ve decided that I want to live to be 100 years young and if this is going to happen, then the pathways in my brain, the heart in my body and the bones that I am walking around with have to stay fit.
If you want to live to be 100 and want help building a comfortable the path to get there, then grab a mini session with me now! We’ve got this, just think… 2116…. Here we come, WOW.