Chronic Stress is a Habit

Are you stressed most of the time? Do you find it difficult to turn off your brain at night so you can sleep? Is it starting to affect your health? Were you able to turn off your urge to work while you were off the past few weeks?

What if I told you that nothing has gone wrong? You simply have a habit to stress. It’s just like any other habit. There’s a cue, a routine, and a reward.  In this case the reward is the potent cocktail of cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine. The routine is something that you are thinking in response to the cue which leads to feeling stressed and the actions that you take from there.

The problem with this particular habit is that having this potent cocktail in your system for prolonged periods leads to health issues. There’s even research out there that says that it’s more of a risk factor for heart disease and cancer than smoking or high cholesterol foods. High levels of cortisol have been proven to shrink the hippocampus, which handles memories and the linking of memories to sensations. High levels of cortisol also lead to inflammation in critical areas of our body.

You created this habit by repeatedly doing a routine in response to a cue to get a reward. Like any other habit, you can change it.

Here’s how.

  1. Implement a morning and evening routine that cultivates calm. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it makes you feel calm and it doesn’t harm your health in the long run. Journaling, gratitude practices, meditation, turning off outside input, thinking time, etc. will all work. Start small and build from there only after you can consistently commit to it.
  2. Comfort yourself when you catch yourself in the stress response. Calm yourself down with some breathing exercises. Exhale longer than you inhale.
  3. Get Curious. Figure out what the cue was and what you were thinking about it. Write it all down. Pick a thought that you know you have all the time. Question whether that thought is really true and figure out if there is something else you can think.
  4. Choose to think the new thought the next time the cue presents itself. You can say things like, I know that’s what we used to think, but we’re thinking this instead.
  5. Repeat, repeat, repeat….it takes on average, 66 days to change a habit.

You more than likely have several habitual thoughts that are leading to your stress response. My number one was “I’m so far behind”. That one sent me off into a stress frenzy, lol. I’ve since replaced it with “I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be”. 

If you have any questions about this, please reach out. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have about how to break this habit to make room for some balance and joy.

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