July 20, 2015

What if you didn't get upset?

I just spent two weeks with my youngest daughter running around New York - walking an average of 12 hours a day. We literally covered all areas save for the mid-town East side which is more or less just offices. We walked until we had no walk left in our legs.

Saturday night we went to see the musical, American in Paris on Broadway, and had a tough time getting back to our friend’s place in Jersey City. 

First the subway stopped four stations from our connection and announced that all service was ended. We then had to walk a few blocks in the pouring rain to find a cab to the connecting PATH train. By about 12:30am we were still waiting for the train. And waiting. And waiting. 

I expected to hear some complaints from my clearly exhausted teenager, but noticed that she was calm and accepting. At 15 that was pretty impressive. Especially since we started at about 7am. 

It reminded me of a great question to ponder. 

What if things could happen but you didn't get upset? 

What if you just didn’t let them get to you. I don’t mean that "fake it 'til you make it" where inside you are seething and outside look cool. I mean really just accepting of what is and what isn’t. 

If you think about what happens when you get upset, the impact is actually quite destructive. To you. Forget about anyone else. You are actually hurting yourself.

When we get upset, the rational part of the brain gives way to the emotional. We then tend to react more emotionally (often saying or doing something we later regret). We also tend to layer a negative filter over events and stop seeing the opportunities. This becomes embedded in our memory and all of a sudden the event is remembered in a negative light.
In our case, our wonderful day might have become the worst!
Continually getting upset threatens our long-term memories. Studies of people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (whose neurobiology can look a lot like the stress profile of modern workers) have a reduced hippocampus, which is integral in the formation of long-term memories.
Constant stress dampens our immune system, can increase cholesterol, cause stomach issues and decrease fertility.  
The brain also creates habits and patterns. So, the more you react to situations by becoming upset, the more you get upset.
The more you react mindfully, and bring a calm and considered approach to situations, the more your brain will develop the habit to respond this way.

It's certainly worth pondering. When I started to question the nature of my upsets I noticed I had this thought “I have a right to be upset!” Or “I should be upset about this.” 

Then I started to ask why should I be upset? 

I couldn't actually come up with a reason beyond some emotional response. So, I started to play around with accepting instead of fighting the situations that I didn't like. In accepting what is, even if I didn't like it, I could find a better way to work with it, beyond reacting. 

This is not about becoming an emotionally vacant automaton. Sometimes we get upset for a reason. Consider though that if an upset sticks around for long, could it be that you are resisting what is? 

In the case of the train being delayed, while we were exhausted and wanted to just get home, we recognised that it was far more draining to fight what was then to just accept. 

I then spent my time and energy looking around the station. It was the newly opened PATH station at the World Trade Centre. The ceiling had been designed by Santiago Calitrava, one of my favourite engineer/architects. 

In not being upset I had a chance to enjoy a rare opportunity to see his work up close, with plenty of time to look around instead of barely glancing at it as we rush to catch a train. So, a problem became an opportunity. 

What opportunities could you take advantage of if you didn't spend your time and energy being upset? What is possible if you just accepted what is? 

It's certainly worth pondering.

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