September 15, 2009

Threats and Uncertainty

Last week I participated in a tele-class on how the brain reacts to threats and uncertainty. Fascinating what happens.

When under threat (real or imagined) the brain triggers a release of chemicals and channels blood towards your arms and legs, enabling the fight or flight response. This happens even before you're consciously aware of a response.

Your field of view na
rrows down to help you focus and move quickly. This is great for short-term response, but useless for working through complex, time-oriented issues.

People under stress tend to miss things on the edge of their view, focus more on problems and over-generalise (everything is hopeless). They find it more difficult to think rationally, and err on the side of pessimism. Problems grow and solutions diminish.

Creativity, lateral thinking and insights all get stymied.

Suppressing emotions keeps the stress locked in. Even worse, through conscious and unconscious communications, people around you experience stress, and their blood pressure actually goes up!

How do you lower stress even if you can't change the situation?

Remember the thing you can't discuss keeps you trapped. Talking things out reduces your brain's burden and gets you out of being stuck.

Humour helps reduce the experience of threat and lighten the mood. Trust me, it works. In the middle of writing this I receiv
ed a call from my mother informing me that my father was in hospital with pneumonia and heart failure.

Humour and positive thinking definitely helped us ease the tension and lighten up. He'll be fine and we know it.

Shift your thinking fast. A quick reappraisal of a situation helps with deep impact, strong threats by putting a brake on your brain's threat response. The key here is to catch it at the very beginning before you get lost down the rabbit hole of negative emotions.

In the case of conflict, step into the other person's shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Warning, this may take a bit of behavioral and cognitive flexibility, i.e. giving up a bit of righteousness about your point of view.

Finally, stand up straight, lift your head up and smile. This simple physical realignment helps your brain shift to a more positive state of mind.

Not sure what to smile about? This might help.

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