“I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
This whole global pandemic thing is tricky. Most of us are tired and triggered and possibly day drinking. Even if we’re healthy and enjoying the slower pace of life, being trapped at home with our nearest and dearest can be pretty hard. And although it doesn’t feel right, it’s totally normal to be more reactive around your immediate family than you are with your friends. Our parents, spouses, and siblings know where our buttons are and how to push them, because in many cases, they installed them.
We will get to the other side of this. I don’t think this is going to put a dent in us that we can’t recover from. But we will only come out the other end better people if we practice our positive coping mechanisms.
Of course, we do always want to be generous and loving and patient even when we are stressed and grieving and facing tremendous uncertainty. But if we are to follow-through on these good intentions, we need to feel safe and secure, because when we are stressed, our brain tries to rescue us by pushing us towards negative coping mechanisms like sugary treats or social media. These negative coping mechanisms tend to activate our dopamine systems, and a dopamine rush makes temptations even more more tempting. Think of this as your brain pushing you toward a comfort item . . . Like an extra glass of wine instead of a reasonable bedtime. Or the entire loaf of sourdough. Or an extra little something in your Amazon cart.
As Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, writes, “Stress points us in the wrong direction, away from clear-headed wisdom toward our least-helpful instincts.” When we’re relaxed, we’ll choose and the earlier bedtime and the stairs instead of the couch. We’ll respond to a difficult person with love and compassion.
And when we’re stressed? Personally, I have a weakness for tortilla chips and spicy queso.
So instead of turning to social media and chardonnay to soothe our rattled nerves, this is the time to preemptively comfort ourselves in healthy ways. Fortunately, positive emotions like compassion and gratitude act as powerful brakes on our stress response — and as such, are truly comforting.
The takeaway: When we are stressed or tired, we can schedule a quick call with a friend, reflect on what we are grateful for, or let ourselves take a little nap. Perhaps we need to seek out a hug from someone in our household or watch a funny YouTube video. These things may seem small — or even luxurious — but they enable us to be the people that we intend to be.
When you aren’t feeling so stressed, you might take a minute to reflect. What “reward” does your brain direct you towards when you are stressed?
Moreover, what is a more constructive reward or treat that you can direct yourself towards? What are some healthy ways to comfort yourself?
Make a plan to pre-emptively comfort yourself today. Before you feel stressed, give yourself the healthy comfort item.