The following is adapted from Free for Life.
Humans evolved to feel stress to protect us from dangers in the natural world. The stress response was meant to trigger a temporary fight-or-flight burst of adrenaline to get us out of threatening situations and save our lives.
In today’s world, however, where we’re constantly bombarded by stress from work, our busy social lives, and the constant stream of communication, our stress response has gone haywire. Our bodies overreact and trap us in stress patterns that keep us in a state of fear and anxiety when there’s no real danger.
If you’re irrationally afraid of something like speaking in public, driving, or leaving your house, you can break the stress patterns in your brain and take back control of your behavior.
What Are Stress Patterns?
Stress patterns develop unconsciously and subconsciously to help us navigate the world and avoid potential danger. However, just because these patterns develop to reduce stress and difficulty in our lives, it doesn’t mean they work—or are reasonable.
For example, say you take a certain road to work every day. One morning, a deer leaps in front of your car and almost causes a crash. Your brain might overreact to the perceived threat and, to avoid the stress it associates with that road, you stop using the route altogether, even if it doubles your commute time.
Rationally, a deer might not be more likely to jump out on that road than any other, but your brain forms a stress pattern to cope. Every day you avoid the old road, the pattern gets reinforced and harder to break. Your behavior gets restricted with no real benefit for you. In fact, you’re increasing your overall risk by spending more time on the road each day.
You can see how falling into a pattern like this would quickly restrict someone’s life and keep them trapped in the same old routine.
Breaking the Pattern
By giving in to stress patterns, we end up controlled by fear and stuck inside the comfort of our eenie, meeny, teeny, tiny, little box. What are we left with?
One choice, really. Break down the walls and interrupt our unconscious, subconscious patterns by continuing to unravel the complex stressors that trick us into feeling safe. We need to recognize how stress patterns limit our behavior and make a conscious decision to act in counteracting ways.
Every time we act against a stress pattern (e.g. taking the route where the deer jumped out), our brain recognizes that there is no real threat and we weaken the pattern’s hold on us.
Dealing with Stress
The first time you try to act against your stress pattern, you’ll likely feel a spike in anxiety. Know that this is natural, and there are ways you can defuse the stress. One technique you can try anywhere and anytime is controlled breathing.
Breath is one of the ways the body can discharge the excessive amount of negative emotion that’s trapped in the tissues. When you utilize the breath to synchronize with the discomfort and anxiety felt within the physical body, the excess emotions that haven’t been processed effectively leave the system and immediately bring you back into a greater state of emotional, physical, mental, and energetic balance.
Our body goes through this process quite naturally. After all, crying is merely a form of breathing. It’s a physically exhaustive form that allows us to immediately break the stress pattern if we are courageous enough to engage our breath at the true level of stress we feel.
When you feel a surge in stress, slow down, breathe deeply, and be patient. After a while, your stress will dissipate and you can work on breaking your stress pattern again.
Moving Beyond Stress Patterns to True Freedom
If you’re trapped in a stress pattern, you need to pull down the wall right now, get vulnerable, and take risks to counteract its hold on you.
Once your stress pattern is interrupted, you’ll realize you can make decisions based on their practicality and usefulness instead of irrational fears, giving you more freedom over your behavior and life.
For more advice on self-improvement, you can find Free for Life on Amazon.
Christopher Lee Maher is a former Navy SEAL who endured intense amounts of physical, mental, and emotional stress as a child and during and after his military career. He has taught himself how to free his energy, body, mind and emotions from pain by developing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of being. Christopher studied Traditional Chinese Medical Practices at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and at Yo San University, then continued his studies at The Universal Healing Tao System. He is a student of Grand Master Mantak Chia at the Universal Tao Master School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is currently pursuing his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Traditional Chinese Medicine.