I sometimes wish I were a wild animal.
Not because I have any sort of fantasy of living naked, in the woods, surrounded by bugs and dirt, though. Far from it!
But, rather, I wonder what it must feel like to fear for my life one minute and then resume normal life peacefully the next.
I can’t remember when it was first brought to my attention, but at some point, my life changed when I learned that humans are the only species cursed with the ability to dwell on the problems of our past.
Apparently, animals in the wild only experience stress when they are in danger. Once that danger has passed, they carry on with their day like nothing ever happened.
Humans…well, we do things differently. Thanks to – you guessed it – our brains.
Your mind is not the same as an animal’s
When we face a stressful event (job loss) or something life-threatening (car accident), immediately following we replay it like a loop in our mind – over and over again.
We replay the conversation with our boss.
We replay the moments just before the (would be or actual) collision.
And, sometimes, those of us (read: me) with anxious tendencies spiral and recreate even worse scenarios in our minds.
It’s not stress that kills us. It is our reaction to it.”– Hans Selye
Soon after learning about that, I then learned that our brain (and all its thoughts) can’t differentiate between what we are thinking versus what’s actually happening.
Connecting the two, I realized that our thoughts about the past end up triggering the same fight or flight hormones as the original danger.
Meaning replaying the event in my mind over and over again will pump my body full of the same amount of stress hormones as when it first happened to me.
I told you – the human curse.
Part of the reason we automatically replay events has to do with our brain wanting to process what happened. Our brain needs to process everything, actually, so that it can decide what we can learn from for the future and what we can forget.
And if you’re a highly sensitive person, like me, then your brain has to process things a lot more often.
Once I realized this, I started making a conscious effort to protect myself by helping my brain differentiate between which stressful events it remembers and which ones it forgets.
Doing this made sense to me.
Consider this: You never stop thinking about your past, and you tell everyone about what happened. And you continue to dwell and get angry about what happened during each storytelling, you’re just continuously feeding yourself a steady stream of stress hormones into your body.
Why would you purposely do that to yourself?
Stop dwelling on the past
Therefore, I’ve stopped dwelling on my past by allowing myself to forget the stressful moments that don’t matter.
Whenever a new bad thing happens, instead of replaying it over and over again, I tell my brain, “You’re fine. You’re safe. You’re alive. Everything is okay.“
This technique works because our negative emotions about the bad thing will only last about sixty to ninety seconds when we don’t dwell and cling to those emotions.
I use this trick for little things, like when the kids get on my nerves when they spill things and argue with each other (so pretty much every. single. day.).
And I use it for bigger things, like when I watch something violent on tv (real or fiction) or if I almost get sideswiped on the interstate.
This tactic of refocusing my mind on the truth of the situation (telling myself that “I’m safe”) helps my brain better process stressful situations.
Doing this has allowed me to become a more calm mom, wife, and all-around chill woman.
But it’s a habit that has taken time to evolve. The more often I practice it, the more I stop myself from spiraling after stressful events, the calmer I get. And the easier it is for me to resume my normal, peaceful, pre-stress life.
The goal is peace, not panic
Isn’t that the goal? Aren’t we all just trying to navigate life by dodging hurdles and things that drag us down? Don’t we all just want to hurry up and get back to the happy and fun things that we love?
By consciously helping my brain decipher which memories to hold on to (the happy ones) and which ones to ignore (the crappy ones), I’m reducing the additional, unnecessary stress on my body.
You can do this too by just setting the intention to catch your mind wanting to replay stressful moments and then think, “Does this really matter right now?” Most of the time, it doesn’t.
Leave the past in the past, especially the past things that weren’t even real dangers (the close calls and the what-ifs). Those scenarios don’t serve you today.
Don’t waste time on what’s not important. Don’t get sucked into the drama. Get on with it: don’t dwell on the past. Be a big person; be generous of spirit; be the person you’d admire.”– Allegra Huston
When we are in a permanent state of stress (because we can’t break out of the replay loop), it becomes difficult to live a peaceful life. You can’t live as carefree as your favorite wild animal.
We have a lot to learn from wildlife if we pay attention.
You are safe. You are secure. You are loved.
Don’t forget it, mama.
Love & light,