You may look at the title and ask; “Lions? What do you mean Lions? I live in the suburbs. We don’t have lions here.”
And in terms of the large feline, that is very true…unless there happens to be an escape from the zoo, in which case we have bigger things to worry about and you should probably stop reading this blog and seek shelter from the loose wild animal. 😉
What I mean when I talk about “Lions” are the chronic stressors that we have in our day to day lives. This can be anything, big or small.
The reason I refer to these things as Lions, will be clear as you continue reading this blog but before we dive into that it’s important to understand what is happening internally and externally when we deal with stress, so that we can ultimately learn how to deal with the situations in a healthy and productive way.
The first step to figuring out how to move forward is to identify what are your Lions? In other words, what are the main things causing you stress?
Stress can be just about anything in the world, but look at what you feel are the biggest causes of stress, anxiety, and depression in your life right now. How much time do you spend worrying about this topic, avoiding it through distraction, or lashing out at friends and loved ones when it is brought to your attention?
As you ask yourself these questions, did you know that evolutionarily these responses you have to stress are actually pretty appropriate? It makes sense that we are behaving this way because we genuinely feel that we are in danger. That if we were to allow ourselves to stop thinking about this, worrying about this, etc. that something dangerous might happen.
Going back to the lion example, imagine what would happen if you were in a room with a lion…and you just closed your eyes and pretended that it was not there. You would probably become “lion chow”.
Our response to stress is known as the Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Our bodies flood with chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, making our muscles tight and our heart rate and breathing speed up. It is our body’s way to prepare to run or fight.
This is how our ancestors survived the world before we started to settle down and build shelters to keep ourselves safe. Our response to threats was very primitive because largely our threats were primitive. Lions, bears, wolves, and other predators were our primary dangers and there was a fairly easy script to follow to deal with them. It boils down to simply, how do I avoid getting eaten right now?
The problem is that when we look at modern society, our problems are typically not going to eat us. Taxes and bills don’t eat you. Relationship problems won’t either. Neither will school, work and household stressors.
So why do they feel like they will?
The simple answer is that our bodies have not developed a different response than the one we used centuries ago.
When something negative occurs, our body responds the same way as if we opened the door to our bedroom, only to find a hungry lion waiting for us.
When we feel stressed or anxious it’s rare that they have a definitive end in which we are able to take that big sigh of relief once a problem gets resolved. Our bodies tend to stay in a constant state of readiness. Ready to fight, run, or at the very least freeze, shut down and just let the danger try to pass. As this happens we experience symptoms like anxiety, depression, lower sexual response, restlessness, PTSD, dissociation, etc.
So what do we do when we constantly feel like this? How do we get through these negative feelings and manage these ferocious lions? That’s what I’m here to help you learn.
Keep reading to find 3 tips on how to best manage your stress aka “Lions”:
1) Start with practicing a mindfulness exercise.
Do something that forces you to attune to the moment: listen to white noise, close your eyes and just…focus on that sound. If you were truly in danger of being eaten immediately this task would be impossible.
You should find your ability to do this helps to reset yourself mentally and lower the anxiety response. There are apps specifically designed for this, but if you don’t want to use those you can use a very simple free white noise app or video.
2) Create a rating scale from 1-10.
0, is no stress at all, so we leave that off.
1 is something very minor, like stubbing your toe (not to the point of breaking just…minor irritating pain gone in a moment).
A 10? Well that is truly the worst case scenario. Apocalypse, world ending chaos.
Then go through and look at everything else in between. What’s a 5 look like, a 2, a 4. Now rate where you feel that stressor is at.
A missed bill payment or a fight with a significant other may feel like a 7 to you. That’s perfectly fine, in fact I would even argue that given our bodies only response to stress, that it is perfectly normal. As you look at your scale though, chances are that where the stressor feels is different than where it actually is.
The stressor might truthfully be a 2, or even a 4 or 5. Again, this is not a bad thing and you should not judge yourself or use this to beat yourself up for “over reacting”.
Instead look at this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your responses.
What is it about this particular event or stressor that makes this lion feel so imminently dangerous? Does this trigger past memories of trauma for you? Tap into a long held insecurity? Or are there simply other factors beyond your control that make this seem amplified?
3) identify what you need to feel safe.
All anxiety stems from the belief that we are not safe in our environment. We may be physically unsafe, mentally unsafe, emotionally unsafe, spiritually unsafe or socially unsafe.
A lion is obviously an example of physical. But getting a potential bad grade or performance review may put our self-esteem and self-worth at risk (mentally Unsafe).
A fight with a significant other or a friend causes us to feel like that relationship is about to end (socially unsafe).
What do you need to do to help you feel safer? This can be problem solving, identifying that a situation is truly outside of your control or involve accepting the situation and seeking out understanding, empathy and validation.
Provided that what you need to feel safe is not harming or infringing on the boundaries or safety of others, it is okay to be selfish and identify your needs.
Identifying and managing your “Lions” can be difficult, but the important thing to remember is that you are NOT alone.
If you feel like you are struggling and that you need someone to help you can always reach out. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but instead one of immense strength.
How do you know that? Simple! No one builds muscle in the gym by only lifting the easy weights.
If you feel like you want or need help please visit us at www.solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532. We are here and ready to help.