In my late 30’s I was at the top of my game (or so I thought), traveling throughout the country working with families and creating healthy change. Meanwhile, back on the home front, my blended family of seven was less than; what one might call, “healthy.” Several teenagers, financial stress, and two always-working parents who thought they were holding it all together. Newsflash, we weren’t.
I was present in the physical sense yet; I found myself not fully present from a mindfulness perspective. One could often find me on the phone talking to the latest client in crisis, or a young person on the verge of relapse. I became the “sweetie, just one second,” mom who would interrupt precious time with my child for a “quick call” with the parent who was locked in their bathroom with their abusive son trying to break the door down. “What do I do? He’s beating the door down.” My response, a calm, “Hang up and call 911.” Then, back to my child; without missing a beat, “What happened again at cheer?”
How could a person be genuinely present in such chaos? It was also during this time; my Doctor told me that if I didn’t reduce the stress in my life, I would more than likely be using a wheelchair within five years. (Backstory) I am a person with a disability which is progressive and affects my nervous and muscular systems, “Sure Doc, let me just take up a little meditation and put the rest of life on hold.” I didn’t listen to him. Although I do not currently use a wheelchair, I am rocking a walker and cane. I’ve always been a person who has to learn the hard way, which is why I find myself writing this blog.
Do you have a similar story to mine? An overachieving professional, who suddenly finds themselves in some personal crisis. The person, who can manage catastrophe after catastrophe at work with stealthy calmness and ease, yet is not quite sure how his or her own life turned into complete and utter chaos. When adversity hits, how do you find your way back to peace? First, follow the Doctor’s orders and reduce stress. Secondly, be present, and thirdly, get support.
Reducing Chaos Strategy No. 1 Reduce Stress
It is challenging to be fully present and manage life events while maintaining high levels of stress. High levels of stress can lead to adverse outcomes on our mental and physical health, work, and relationships. More than two decades of research shows stress changes the brain physiology, and not in a good way. Consistent exposure to stress impairs our prefrontal cortex, all while strengthening our amygdala (Neurobiology of Stress, 2015).
The prefrontal cortex is the highly evolved part of our brain responsible for the regulation of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Think of the prefrontal cortex as your own personal Yoda full of insight and guidance. On the other hand, the amygdala is responsible for our emotions, survival instincts, arousal systems, and even memory; it generates the unconscious and primal stress response throughout our body and brain. The amygdala can create a stress response years after trauma or stress is over.
With this said, when living under consistently high levels of stress, our physical being reacts from a place of emotion, impulse, and survival instincts. The more we live this way, the more we reinforce and strengthen the primal part of our brain. Chronic exposure to stress forces us into survival mode acting on impulse and emotion which; in turn, creates more stress and chaos. Instead, we want to reinforce and strengthen the highly evolved aspects of our mind and consciousness, which provides regulation of thought, feeling, and behavior. Doing so creates more peace and joy.
Reducing Chaos Strategy No. 2 Be Present
Reducing stress looks different for each person; yet, being present is the only way to do so. Living in the here and now and quieting the mind. Paying attention to our feelings. Listening to and responding to the thoughts or “the voices in our head.” Awareness.
Physiological change occurs when we become aware of the thoughts in our mind and recognize them as separate from who we authentically are. The same type of change happens when we become aware of our feelings as different from who we are. Our thoughts and feelings are ego-driven; whereas, awareness of our thoughts and feelings as part of the ego leads to a higher state of consciousness, which allows us to be in the present moment.
After years of unawareness and strengthening our ego, it can take much practice to be present, yet in doing so is where change begins. This change is fundamental in reducing chaos in your life.
Reducing Chaos Strategy No. 3 Get Support
The first concept I teach in our “real change” workshop, whether it be parenting, communication, or team building, is, “Ask for help.” We are not designed to do life alone. Human beings cannot survive during the first years of their life without support. I am not talking just physically but also emotionally, and mentally. Developmentally humans rely on other people for important psychosocial tasks such as trust, autonomy, and even identity. When society or caretakers do not meet specific needs throughout the lifespan, a psychosocial crisis occurs.
Unfortunately, we live in a world which promotes physical health yet stigmatizes emotional and mental health. Take a moment to think about this. In the world of social media, how many posts do you see where someone is showing the world their before and after weight loss photos; yet, the same people rarely consider sharing stories of mental health and wellness. Both take hard work, yet physical health is accepted and publicly encouraged; whereas, mental and emotional health is still secretive and taboo. It is no wonder people do not ask for help. We have a long way to go people!
This post offered you three proven methods to find peace during a crisis in your life, which are to: (1) reduce stress, (2) be present, and (3) get support. Now that we have discussed the steps, it is time to take action. Taking action is the most important; yet, often the most difficult move to make. Action requires movement or change, and often, people are sick of yet, comfortable in their chaos, so they choose to stay in this space for years. Others recognize action is needed and jump into it; then there are those, myself included who have to hit a brick wall and are forced into action.
Helping to create healthy change is part of my life’s purpose, and it is also a never-ending journey for me. Currently, by following the methods discussed in this blog, I am implementing balance into my life. With much-needed support from close friends and family, I have reduced the major work stressors I allowed to consume my life and prevent me from practicing presence in my relationship with others and myself. Additionally, I give myself space for physical, relational, emotional, mental, and financial health. Mostly, I practice what I preach. If you are ready to take immediate action and want additional support on reducing stress, being present, and getting help, I will encourage you to sign up for One Change Group’s newsletter today.
Regardless of the experience you or loved ones are going through our dedicated and experienced One Change Group Counselors are here to help you. Contact us at https://onechangegroup.org to set up a free initial consultation today.
Arnsten, A.F.T., Murray, A., Raskind, B., Fletcher, B., Taylor, C., Daniel, F., Connor, D.; (2015). The effects of stress exposure on prefrontal cortex: Translating basic research into successful treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder. Neurobiology of Stress.