Why do we hurt those closest to us?

13 Jan 2020
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Lashing out might give temporary release but leaves you feeling worse

Stress shows itself in many different ways: we might have physical symptoms like eczema, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive issues, headaches or migraines, tense muscles especially in the jaw and shoulders, or it could be behavioural changes, like teeth grinding, trouble concentrating or poor sleep patterns.

It may manifest in weight gain (the chemicals that signal when you’re full are off balance, as a result you’re more likely to overindulge – you also tend to eat more to replenish flagging energy levels) or weight loss, low sex drive (in men this decreased sex drive may be due to a drop in testosterone levels), high blood pressure exacerbated by less sleep and a weakened immune system…
And very commonly, it affects our moods – we may become more moody, emotional and quick-tempered, which may escalate into anxiety or depression. We feel helpless and unable to see a way out of this current situation, which makes things worse.
The limbic system, the primitive part of our brain that looks after our safety, goes on high alert when we’re under stress. It works under a necessarily simple system based around:
Pattern-matching – Has this situation come up before? Was it ok? What did we do? It must have worked because we survived so do it again – that’s how our habits are formed, and
Opt-out clauses of Freeze / Flight / Fight – Freeze means we hunker down, stop interacting with the world until something changes and this can be translated into the modern-day symptoms of depression; Flight means being on high alert, ready to run from danger; and Fight, well it means fight! Get angry because anger is a primitive way of increasing our strength so that we can defend ourselves against wild animals or other tribesmen – and these fall back positions worked remarkably well, after all human beings are arguably the most powerful species on earth at this time.
Essentially, our primitive brain is constantly scanning our environment for danger. When we come up against a situation it looks for a pattern match to refer to, if the template shows that the situation is ok, the primitive brain goes back to scanning, but if there is a negative pattern (every time you come up against a traffic jam you go tense, hunch your shoulder, swear), your primitive brain will reach for this and replicate the behaviour, and increase the intensity until before you know it you go into full road rage mode every time you get behind the wheel of your car. In these cases, the primitive brain activates stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to get you ready for action.
This is the exact same system that kept our caveman ancestors alive except the wallpaper has changed – nowadays we don’t face life or death situations every time we leave the safety of our homes, but that primitive part of our brain has translated all stress into ‘life threatening’, so traffic hold ups, running late, having looming deadlines, arguments with managers or colleagues, dealing with tricky customers, losing sales deals, taking on extra workload… all these things create pressure. And they build on each other in a drip-feed process, your anxiety increases in a gradual process.
You go home feeling rubbish, like you’re not achieving much, like everyone is against you and you have the weight of the world on your shoulders and when you get home you’re expected to shed everything that’s happened in the day/week/month and be your ‘home persona’, whether it’s dad, mum, son, daughter, wife, husband, partner, carer… and that’s hard.
So it’s often the tiniest straw that breaks the camels back – the cup of water spilled by your daughter, the trainers left on the stairs by your son, the cat you trip over, the dog that puts a muddy paw print on your shirt, the mum who chastises you for wearing your shoes into the house, the wife who asks if you remembered to pick up the milk, the husband who reminds you that friends are coming over for dinner… whatever your home life is made up of, it’s the final straw for you – and you lash out, with anger, with tears, with overwhelm.
It’s not actually the situation you’ve come home to, but it’s the culmination of all that pressure and it’s so much easier to display feelings at home, in front of loved ones, to say things to them you wouldn’t say to work colleagues. And it momentarily relieves the pressure, like steam bursting from a pressure cooker, but you end up feeling wretched and worse yet, your nearest and dearest have suffered the brunt of your outburst – your child is now in tears from being shouted at, your partner is pissed off, your parent is disappointed and shocked at your behaviour, and they’re all tiptoeing around you. And then you have to say sorry, there’s a lot going on at the moment… but you know it’s no excuse really for lashing out at your loved ones.
How do you stop this cycle of behaviour, because you know it will happen again when that pressure point is reached?
1. Gain perspective, take a step back and acknowledge that there are things outside your control and that means you’ve got to let them go. Stop over-thinking about what you should have said or done and accept nothing is perfect, learn from mistakes and move on. When we continue to ruminate on past events or future forecast bad things happening, our primitive brain takes it all on board as if it were reality which means those stress hormones are released – even though it’s all in your mind!
2. Talk to your family, let them know you have pressure on – you’ll be amazed at how much help that can be, just sharing your situation. You don’t have to go into the minutiae and you’re certainly not looking for any ‘helpful’ advice, but you are allowed to ask for a little leeway so that when you do forget to buy the milk it isn’t such a big deal
3. Plan in a buffer between work and home, something like stopping at the gym for a half hour workout or listening to music or an audio book on the way home, a time to allow your brain to shift from ‘work you’ to ‘home you’ so you walk through the door feeling calmer – any feelings of guilt at being home a bit later than you could be can be assuaged by the fact that when you do walk through the door you’re in a better frame of mind to be that good dad, mum, carer, rather than being their in body but raging in spirit
4. Find a friend at work to talk to, this is especially useful if you’re working in a toxic environment and you both need to offload, a mutual support network
5. Put up with it, Change it or Ditch it – acceptance is a powerful tool, it’s part of gaining perspective but goes beyond even that. And if you can’t accept the stressful environment, is it possible to effect any change within the organisation? Or if you can’t change it, is it time to leave?
6. Stop multitasking – we live in an era of constant interruption (continuous partial attention), from emails, telephone, texts, social media, apps, people… assess your effort management. Think about the value of each demand on your time and energy: is it really worth giving much attention to? And set time boundaries on electronic communication (metaphorically ‘shut the door’ on work)
7. Look after you sleep – sleep is the foundation of our health and yet it is marginalised in it’s importance. Any parent who’s gone through the early childhood years will attest to the profound impact lack of sleep has on them – sleep deprivation doesn’t just leave you feeling grumpy, it puts you at risk of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy. Most parents understand the importance of a good bedtime routine for their children and yet we forget that us adults also need a routine, it prepares the mind and body for that all-important rest – and that rest prepares us for the day ahead. Want a copy of our sleep calculator? Grab it here!
We hope you found this useful. If you’d like help getting on top of your anxiety and stress, contact us for a no obligations chat or schedule in a call using our online calendar https://geraldinejoaquim.as.me/
email. info@mind-yourbusiness.co.uk
tel. 01798 344879
And if you’d like help with stress in the workplace, you might want to take a look at out free guide ‘STRESSED OUT’ helping organisations change from reactive to proactive for happier people and better business.

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