It was the second night after I’d moved to a foreign country and the fire alarm went off in the house at 2 a.m. Completely disoriented, I leapt out of bed, and ran down the stairs. A few steps down apparently my legs forgot how to operate correctly, I tumbled the rest of the way down and sprained my ankle. Fight or flight mode and coordination don’t work well together.
Later on, some trying-to-be-helpful person said, with perfect logic, “Well, your kids were upstairs, why did you run downstairs?”
Now I’m sitting there trying to play back in my mind an incident that, let’s be honest, was a live wire (me) surfing down a slippery staircase of adrenaline.
I answered the trying-to-be-helpful person, “Well, yes, I guess I was thinking I could turn the alarm off because the alarm was downstairs or maybe everybody was already out of the house that I was the last to wake up.”
This was a complete lie of course because the truth was, I wasn’t thinking AT ALL! My body ran downstairs (without my brain which was still sleeping in bed) because I was in fight or flight and my body was in survival mode trying to keep me alive. My thinking brain was totally shut off.
My body took over and “I” was nowhere to be found in this scenario. I was a train with no conductor, barreling down the tracks. Nobody home. Smart Amy had left the building.
Of course this was not “rational” and there was no way I was going to remember what I was thinking, even if I’d had the ability to think (which I did not)! Our bodies are specifically designed this way because who has time to be doing pros and cons lists and flowchart projections when being chased down the hill by a river of molten lava?
Your brain shuts off anything nonessential when you’re in fight or flight so it can do what it needs to do. In my case, to run downstairs and sprain my ankle. If somebody says, “Well, that was stupid.” Of course it was stupid because, guess what, my thinking brain was completely shut off!
Let’s briefly break down the science of what was happening in my brain that night.
A natural, adrenaline fueled, evolutionary response called “Fight or Flight” normally happens when our nervous system senses a threat to our life. Fight or flight overrides our thinking brain, and decides whether our greatest chances of survival will come from putting up our dukes and fighting the threat or running away from it (or in my case falling down a staircase at 2 a.m.).
Quite simply, fight or flight happens when our “stress switch” is on. That’s what I call it when our brain switches from a peaceful state to a stressed out one. When our stress switch flips on, our thinking brain flips off. It’s (almost) that simple. Your ancient lizard brain tells your body – “hey we’re just trying to survive right now and your intellectual capacity is completely useless to me right now.”
Now apply this to your everyday life, where presumably, if you’re one of the 75% of American adults who report experiencing “moderate to high levels of stress,” your stress switch is on at least part of the time.
On top of running intellectual interference (i.e. making you dumber than you are), your stress switch can wreak havoc in other ways in your body and in your life. Stress can make you take things personally, it can hamper your performance (at work, school, sports, and more), it can make you selfish, pessimistic, sleepless, and its physical effects like inflammation can create health problems that otherwise would not exist.
In other words, similar to the Snickers commercials… You’re not YOU when you’re stressed!
Take a moment to think about how this evolution brain hijacking is affecting your life, your relationships with your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, and your community. How often, when you’re feeling stressed, do you snap at others, make impulsive decisions, slam a door, hang up the phone in frustration, yell at your kids or spouse, binge on “comfort food” (or comfort adult beverages)? Most people have their “moments” like that but for many, it has become a chronic, constant reactionary state.
How do you think living in this type of constant biological “code red” situation is affecting your highest potential in life and what you’re capable of achieving, personally and professionally?
Our stress doesn’t operate in a vacuum either, only affecting our own life. Your stress acts like mercury in a pond and ripple by ripple, it spreads to others. It touches everyone you encounter in this state. Your stress pollutes their chances of being calm and happy because they pick up on your stress and your behaviors activate their own stress systems.
Your stress is not just your own.
This seemingly unsolvable problem of stress is especially surprising given the plethora of “stress management” solutions available on the market, along with the rampant articles and books on the topic of “managing stress.”
How is “coping” with stress working for you so far? Wouldn’t you rather CURE it?
My upcoming book The Stress Switch: The Truth About Stress and How to Short Circuit It reveals the REAL shocking truths behind stress – what causes it, the greater dangers of letting it run rampant, why our current solutions to combat stress have categorically failed, and most importantly, it offers a total paradigm shift around how we view and deal with stress. I hope you’ll pick a copy of my book when it’s released early in 2019 because I want you to live this life being 100% you and all the beautiful things you are capable of!