Do you remember those creepy transmissions that used to interrupt your favorite TV shows with loud, high-pitched beeps and an ominous monotone voice repeating, “This is a test. This is only a test”? Apparently, that was the Emergency Broadcast System’s way of preparing TV viewers in case the government ever needed to quickly convey crucial information in a national emergency. But all it did was freak me out and make it hard to enjoy the rest of my regularly scheduled programming as I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear some sort of explosion in the distance. I never liked fire drills at school for the same reason.
I may seem nutty but my reaction isn’t far off from the average person’s when it comes to stress. It’s called fight or flight and it’s the way our bodies and minds respond to situations that make us sweat. When we feel threatened or anxious, our minds leap to the worst conclusion and our bodies prepare for battle. Sometimes we freeze up completely and other times we cower but, unless we are in serious physical danger, none of these instincts are very useful in daily life.
One of my life coaching clients, Mitch, a computer engineer, was finishing a project on a tight deadline when his machine crashed with less than an hour to go. He froze, paralyzed by his panic and spent a few minutes staring around his room while his palms began dripping sweat and his breathing became quick and shallow.
Inside Mitch’s mind, a catastrophic—even comical—scene was unfolding. “If I can’t recover that data, my client is going to sue the company and I’ll get fired, or, worse—go to jail.” He imagined, automatically jumping to the worst case scenario. “Then, no one will ever hire me and I’ll lose everything and end up living under a bridge doing magic tricks on the sidewalk for quarters…”
Suddenly, a phone call from Mitch’s daughter distracted him long enough to snap him back into the moment and out of fight or flight. When he turned back to the computer screen, he worked calmly and carefully to finish his project and guess what? He met his deadline with a few minutes to spare.
The fight or flight mechanism can save your life when you’re in mortal danger but it can also work against you when everyday stress comes along. Stress triggers your instinct to protect yourself from extreme peril, even if you’re only having a bad day. Your brain can’t tell if it’s the real deal or just a test so it puts your body on full alert. Sweaty, panting, and too paralyzed to act, Mitch was about to sabotage his deadline when the phone call from his daughter snapped him out it. Then, I taught him how to snap himself out of it.
One way to remind yourself that stress is “only a test” and not a moment of life and death is to develop your own Emergency Relaxation System. (A word of advice—stay away from loud beeps.) I introduced Mitch to EFT tapping techniques—a series of taps on your energy meridians that help clear emotional blocks and restore the mind/body balance. Tapping helped Mitch turn off his body’s fight or flight alarm clock so he could concentrate on careful decision-making instead of frantic self-protection.
And tapping is only one of many methods you can use to implement your Emergency Relaxation System. Guided breathing, meditation, and affirmations, when practiced habitually, can also help your body transition from panic to peace when stress is “only a test.” Martha Beck suggests that you envision that voice in your head that always predicts disaster as a lizard. When your lizard begins to babble about doom, gloom, and living under a bridge, recognize it for what it is, pat it on the head and thank it for its concern. Then, send it on its way.
If you want to learn more about developing your own Emergency Relaxation System, give me a call and let’s chat. In the meantime, here’s a basic EFT technique you can start using today should stress come your way.
You can easily find tapping points at the top of your head, on your karate chop (heel of your hand), eyebrow, under eye, chin, and collarbone. When stress finds you, using two or three fingers, lightly tap on these points, starting at the karate chop, while repeating this phrase, “Even though I have this stress (you can replace “stress” with a better description of your problem) I deeply and completely accept myself.” Without rushing, spend a few minutes cycling through the points I suggested while repeating this phrase.