Stress, Cortisol, and Gratitude

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As usual, I have managed to lose the original source of the idea, because I didn’t write it down and I found it several weeks ago. I’m pretty sure it was a YouTube video, which really narrows things down, right?

The idea is pretty simple: stress creates cortisol in our bodies and cortisol has multiple effects on us. Within several seconds of encountering a stressful situation, our IQ (intelligence or mental abilities) is cut IN HALF. (If that’s not the correct figure, it drops significantly.)

In short, stress makes us stupid!

To me, this means that living in a constantly stressed-out state means that we are living in such a way that we can’t use our full mental potential, and we are making decisions and doing our work as if we were much dumber than we really are!

So, what if we can’t all do like I did and walk away from a stressful career?

It seems the answer is gratitude.

Somehow, finding something to be grateful for at that moment and about that moment short circuits the stress cycle, and allows us to maintain our mental abilities.

It takes practice, and it can take a shift in our outlook on life. Challenges become opportunities to grow and to learn new skills. Illnesses might have to become opportunities to slow down and/or to strengthen relationships — especially if you become the caregiver. We have to take a creative look at each situation to find the good and feel grateful for it.

Has your life been enriched by gratitude? Share how in the comments!

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Battling Christmas Letdown

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This is the first year that I haven’t really struggled with what I call “Christmas letdown.” There’s a huge build-up to Christmas: decorating, cooking, music, advertisements, movies, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in the need for Christmas to be amazingly special — especially if you are codependent.

Christmas can be a nightmare as things don’t go perfectly, as that “special feeling” gets swallowed up in stress and anxiety. Kids misbehave (usually at the family get together, so that you just “know” that all of your in-laws are talking about you behind your back). Presents don’t endear you to people like you hoped they would. You just can’t create that perfect “Hallmark Christmas.” You feel like you’re the only one who isn’t happy, the only one who is struggling just to get through the season.

How can you make the craziness stop?

  1. Breathe: I’m being serious. As you feel your sense of crazy overloading, use that as your trigger to stop for a few moments and focus on your breathing. Take in long, nourishing breaths through your nose and feel the air fill the deepest reaches of your lungs. Let the air flow out of your lungs. Really feel the goodness enter your body with each breath. You’re triggering things that are hardwired into your brain to help you reduce your stress.
  2. Be here, now: Last year is over. Nothing will change it. This year is all we have. Enjoy it for exactly what it is. There is good in every moment if we have the eyes to see it!
  3. Connect, instead of perfect: Unpacking the boxes of decorations and trimming the trees was a bittersweet time for me. It had nothing to do with the baubles I was actually holding in my hands, it was about the memories. A perfect Christmas doesn’t bring people together. People are brought together as we open our hearts and reach out to them. Look for ways to spend time with others.
  4. Search for the good: Christmas is one of the few holidays that still lingers after it has officially come and gone. Look for little ways that you can find the good in each day, smile at someone, do a little extra something for someone each day.
  5. Focus on the memories: Presents will break and wear out, family and friends will go home and return to their own lives. Memories are what we can keep. If things don’t go according to plan, laugh and help everyone have a good memory to keep.
  6. Acknowledge that you’re not alone: Christmas letdown is actually very common. You may feel like you are the only one, but you are not. If you’re faking a smile, you’re probably in good company.

I hope that you have already had lots of reasons to truly celebrate already this year and that tomorrow is a day filled with beautiful memories.

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Just Because I’m Biased

My husband and I both laughed as we heard the voice from the video he was watching: “Just because I’m biased doesn’t mean I’m not right.”

Obviously, it stuck with me, because I’m writing about it months after I heard it!

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How We Tend to View Bias

Pig-headed, bigoted, arrogant, close-minded: these are phrases that I commonly hear when someone is speaking about bias, but the truth is that we are all biased. We have opinions based on our experiences, the experiences of others, and the things we have been taught.

The problem is that when our bias conflicts with someone else’s bias, we feel uncomfortable. Our minds are wired to instinctively find fault with the other person. What amounts to a difference of opinion becomes character flaws and personal attacks in our minds.

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What Bias Really Is

Bias really is nothing more than perspective. Throughout life, we suffer from the “witness effect.” The place you figuratively stand alters what you actually see.  That is why five people seeing the same crime can have five similar but different stories.

Life changes our perspective.

Then how can we be sure of our opinions?

Some things truly are “Only Common Sense.” Choosing a career as a thief is much more damaging to you and your community than if you choose a career of honest work. Logic and reason are still reasonably reliable tools. Also, there are things that simply “work.” If our habits, patterns, and biases aren’t causing us or others problems in life, then we have probably been doing things “right.”

How do I Deal with my Personal Bias?

First of all, remember the quote at the top of the post: it is possible to be both biased and right.

Then, create your guidelines. Here are my personal guidelines:

  • Listen to understand. I might just learn something and revise some of my viewpoints. At the very least, I will get to exercise my brain by thinking about what has been said and why I disagree.
  • Don’t take it personally. Even if the other person seems to be attacking you, there is something in their perspective that makes them feel that they need to attack. If you have not been deliberately offensive, it’s not on you — although you can be kind and apologize or try to diffuse the tension of the moment.
  • Stay civil. We lose all that is valuable in a disagreement when we check our civility at the door.

 

What are some of your biases? How have you formed them? How do you deal with others who have opposing biases? Comment!

In the Moment

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Before I begin, I want to be sure that it is VERY clear that I love my husband dearly, and that the purpose of this post is NOT to put him down. It’s a chance for me to “model” what I try to do when life lets me down.

The Backstory

In May, I made a major career change that has left me with a lot of uncertainties and insecurites. Lately, things have been coming to a bit of a head, and I find myself having trouble sleeping. My husband and I were talking about it, and he asked how he could help. I have learned enough in my life to know two things:

  1. When a man offers to help, he usually wants to help.
  2. If I’m not specific, he won’t get the message.

It’s just the difference between men and women.

So, I told him that I really could use help cleaning the house and getting some chicken put up that’s been waiting for me to repackage it for a couple of days. There. Clear, concise — exactly what a man needs.

We both knew when he asked this question that he had to work this weekend, but it was a couple of hours before he was going to have to get started. So, I assumed that he was going to buckle down and tear through the house. He moved one load of laundry around, sat down, and watched YouTube until it was time for him to log in from home.

My Reaction

I don’t think it’s dawned on my husband yet — he’s pretty distracted with his work project right now. I’m kind of hurt. I feel like he implied a promise and then broke it.

On the other hand, he works hard (as do I) and we both know that he needs more down time than I do, and that his down time needs to feel like play. (I prefer moving on to another project.)

Fortunately, I recoginized I had a choice, or I would have gone with my kneejerk reaction to cry, raise my voice, and let him know how disappointed and frustrated I am — after all, we had just discussed how stressed out I am, I told him how he could help, and he failed.

Since I didn’t take choice number 1, I have avoided a fight (at least for now).

Future Choices

I would love to say that I know I can keep my mouth shut and let it fester, keep my mouth shut and shrug it off, or talk to him about it when he’s not so busy and distracted — and that I choose to just shrug it off. In the end, it’s not a big deal, and I always seem to get the most important stuff done, anyway. Then, I can observe to see if things really are out of balance in our relationship and in our home duties, and have a rational discussion if it’s needed.

Unfortunately, I prove all the time exactly how human I am. I may not be able to let it go. Because I have been in abusive relationships and because of other experiences in my life, feeling like other people are dumping on me is a BIG DEAL. If I try to “just not say anything,” it may just fester and blow up later.

My Real Choice

Because I want to learn how to shrug the inconsequential stuff off, I’m going to try to let it go. But, being aware of my weaknesses, I’m going to monitor myself. If it turns out I can’t let it go, then I will talk to him later this evening or sometime tomorrow when it’s more appropriate so that we’re both aware of what’s been bopping around inside my head.

Because I’ve married an amazing man, I expect that if I approach him with some respect, I’ll receive respect in return, and we’ll work things out.

No, it won’t be the end of all of our problems and glitches in our marriage. But, it will still be a great marriage. In fact, one of the best indicators of a good marriage is the maturity level of both spouses. Total lack of conflict is a danger sign.