Thankfully, it’s automatic.
Also, annoyingly, it’s automatic.
When we perceive a threat, the body knows what to do. Our senses heighten, pupils dilate, heart rate increases and blood flow is redirected to the limbs for swift action. There’s no time for thinking, so the prefrontal cortex (the sensible, decision making part of the brain) goes quiet until the danger passes.
Works perfectly if you are being chased by a tiger.
Not so much, when we are dealing with mental stress.
When we are over-thinking, we're not burning off the accumulation of stress hormones with action. Often we stuff the feelings to get through the day. If this becomes habit, we begin operate in this mode and continuous low-level stress becomes our new normal.
Now that I know that this is happening in me, I can employ some strategies to modulate it.
Perhaps an even more importantly, I can see that this also happening in my children. When they are having a difficult time, I can observe my own reactivity and choose to respond to them in a more compassionate way.
I talk a little about this process with @clareslair on Newstalk’s Alive and Kicking. My interview begins at 18 min. It’s a12 min listen.
You can also find the link to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course starting this Saturday, January 22nd here!