The weatherman predicted spring rain last weekend, so I dressed up to Oran “Juice” Jones, my favorite trail through the woods. The day was overcast and chilly but thankfully there was no rain. I understand weather happens in cycles, but I’m not a fan of cold rain. There’s a good chance you also deal with a season in your life of which you’re not particularly fond.
Why do we act as if stress is just like a weather system we don’t like? Do you behave as if anxiety is something you just have to deal with? Do you think there isn’t much you can do but hunker down, weather the cycle, and wait for things to change?
As we cycle through #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth, let’s focus for a moment on our beliefs about coping with recurring cycles of stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are some of the biggest obstacles – and silent killers- of our health and well-being.
Yes, life happens, but if you are making decisions that are not purposeful, you are contributing to your own stressful cycles and diminishing your well-being. This is no exaggeration.
Studies show stress, anxiety, frustrations, conflicts, racism, sexism, poverty, and other traumas wear and tear on your health. The findings suggested that Hispanics had more biological risk factors than Whites but fewer risk factors than Blacks. One study found by age 45, 50% of black women show signs of high exposure to repeated or chronic stress. The cortisol our body automatically produces during the flight or fight response to unsafe situations is doing a number on our well-being. Yes, stress can make you sick. If your stress is consistent or severe enough, it can kill you. Everyday circumstances that increase or diminish your mental health and well-being aren’t coincidental, they are cyclical.
cy·cli·cal ˈsīklik(ə)l,ˈsik-/ adjective 1. occurring in cycles; recurrent. “the cyclical nature of the cement industry” Synonyms: recurrent, recurring, regular, repeated; periodic, seasonal, circular “the cyclical fluctuations in demand”
You can learn to be more aware of the signs and see the connections contributing to the good and not so good cycles in your life. The stress, burnout, and exhaustion from your job, relationships, or unhealthy lifestyle are being created or made worse by the way you are showing up and making decisions in your life. You have the power to change this even if you can’t see it right now.
If you’re going to break the cycle of overwhelming, fear-based decisions, and desperately needing an escape from your daily routine, you’ll need a plan.
Below, we explore the four major components of well-being and ways you can break your cycle of unhealthy living.
(1) Awareness is the first of the 4 major components of well-being that can be learned with practice. Your plan is simple. Begin a new cycle of practicing these 4 components each day. According to the Center for Healthy Minds, awareness is defined as “dedicating one’s full attention to whatever’s at hand in your current experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly”. Once you start building your awareness, the next components of well-being include…
(2) Connection relates to cultivating social emotions that facilitate interacting with others harmoniously, and behaving in ways that are compassionate
(3) Insight is building awareness of how your mind works, particularly with regard to the narratives we all hold about ourselves
(4) Purpose is identifying your larger aspirations in life, and aligning your everyday behaviors and experiences with that core meaning
For right now, think about how awareness, what you focus on, can help you begin to identify and reduce the obstacles to your health and well-being.
Let’s look at your current circumstances. How are you coping with stress in your daily life? How miserable are you just thinking about the work you do? How many times have you started a diet to lose the same 20 pounds? How often do you ignore the overwhelming roller coaster ride that is your hectic schedule by saying things like “I’m in a good place, right now” or “it is what it is”? What relationship conflicts have you decided are just a way of life? Should I mention the way you shop and spend money to cope with anxiety?
Stressful cycles are often created or magnified by our decisions. What if by noticing your own patterns, you could stop or even shorten some cycles that you don’t enjoy? What if you could learn to notice your own patterns and have tools to do something constructive about them? Let’s make this the moment you begin to change your unhealthy cycles and decisions.
During this Mental Health Awareness Month, choose to crush one limiting belief or an unhealthy, unproductive behavior that is coming to mind. Ah! Yes, that one. Choose the one you immediately started to dismiss.
Once you start getting yourself support, it’s also important to be aware of your family, friends, and coworkers who feel like they are caught in a destructive, unhealthy, or undesirable pattern. There are too many people out there suffering in silence.
You can help normalize investing in wellness and seeking professional help. The best way to encourage your loved ones to break their cycles of stress and anxiety is to break yours. If they are open to the possibility that things can get better, share this plan so they can immediately get to work identifying and beginning to change their stressful cycles.