Keeping calm when the world around you isn’t

11 Jan 2018
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Living in the modern world isn’t easy…

Why do we lash out at others when we get stressed, when did strangers start having arguments with strangers over the minutiae of life?  

Particularly in highly populated areas and at times of stress, such as using the tube at rush hour or crowding together to read the train arrival/departure boards in the evening… When did we all get so mean?

Underneath our very modern exteriors, we are still cavemen and women.  The human race has evolved over millions of years however civilisation as we know it has only been around for a few thousand years, so it’s understandable that our brains haven’t quite caught up yet. 
The brain is made up of 2 main areas (tube-map version!): the Intellectual brain which is our conscious part, and the Primitive brain, our subconscious, whose sole role is to manage our survival.  When we operate out of our intellectual brain we usually make rational, considered decisions however when we feel threatened we lose that intellectual control, the primitive mind takes over and it always operates under the freeze/flight/fight response (otherwise known as depression, anxiety or anger).
This system kept our ancestors alive and enabled them to anticipate danger.  Now in our modern world, we no longer face life-threatening situations every time we step outside our front doors – but to our Primitive brain, any situation that has the potential to jeopardise our life or is a ‘road block’ to us getting what it thinks we need, is perceived as life threatening and thus a chain of reactions is activated.  The Amygdala (freeze/flight/fight centre) sends a message to the Hippocampus (stores our patterns of behaviour), if a negative match or no match is found the Hypothalamus is activated which releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, getting us ready to act.
So, what has this got to do with us getting so mean and stressed?  Our everyday lives are strewn with roadblocks – for instance, every time we can’t find a parking space, or we’re late for a meeting… or we enter a Tube station.  We potentially face danger in the form of missed trains, pushing crowds, other people’s stress or anger, machines not working, racing against the clock… so our Amygdala is on constant alert pushing us into the fall back positions of depression (freeze), anxiety (flight) or anger (fight).  Quite literally we are ready to react as if it were a life or death situation whilst being quite unaware of it.  And that anxiety doesn’t have to happen all at once, it can build up gradually until one day you find your heart is pounding, your forehead is clammy, your palms are sweaty, your stomach is churning and you simply cannot face going down those stairs to the Tube, on the verge of a full blown panic attack. And this fight/flight response is going on in every person, every day.  Some people are predisposed to anger more readily than others, or to anxiety or depression but we all have those potentials.  As we live closer and faster lives, the survival system is switched on more and more and without allowing down time, it becomes hyper-alert.
So how do we stop it?  Quite simply we need to make a conscious choice to remain in our intellectual brain, to make rational and positive decisions rather than operating from our emotional, primitive brain. The more we practise being positive (smiling at a stranger, noticing blue sky, holding a door open), the better we become at it.  
And this isn’t just a woolly concept of being more positive, when we change our thinking we also change the balance of chemicals that are floating around our systems increasing hormones like serotonin which helps to cap those stress hormones, and makes us feel happier – and we feel happier because we are happier.
Sleep. This is the most under-rated pillar of health (we all know about exercise and nutrition but sleep is pivotal to good physical and mental health), it has been marginalised by modern living as we strive to make more use of our waking hours. 
And using talking therapies such as CBT, NLP, hypnotherapy, coaching, counselling, etc that can help people cope with modern living, helping them to cope better with stress.  
If you would like to gain control of your thoughts and live a more positive life, contact for a chat to see how we can help get you back on track to the real you

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