Welcome to "Conversations with Joan Herrmann," a new column based on Joan's signature work, Change Your Attitude, Change Your Life. Her vast knowledge and stable of experts who offer self-help tips on personal betterment will now be at TapInto's fingertips. Column questions or suggestions? Email email@example.com.
This week, Joan talks about stress, something that is quite universal. Joan discusses how stress is natural and talks about the fight or flight response it causes and what it does to our body. She recommends things you can begin to do right away "to stop the madness.”
Q. There has been a great deal of stress in today’s society. People seem to be on one side or the other, there is no in between. Does not having a way to talk things through without the fear of being attacked have a stressful impact on us?
Joan: Any time the mind perceives a stressful situation, there is a physiological response that occurs in the body known as the “fight or flight” response. The fight or flight response is designed to keep us safe. With this response, the body produces a surge of chemicals such as adrenalin, which is supposed to give us added power to survive a threat. For example, when our ancestors encountered a tiger or some other danger, the body created a response that enabled them to outrun or survive the threat. Then, once the situation was over, the body returned to its normal state.
The problem today is that many of us are living in a constant state of stress, forcing the body to continuously pump out harmful chemicals like adrenalin and cortisol. These chemicals are circulated throughout the body, with a negative impact and they’re making us sick. We are not designed to continually operate in the fight or flight mode.
With the increased use of social media, 24-hour news networks, the Internet, and other forms of continuous stimulation, it is extremely difficult to escape and shut down. Coverage and discussion about school shootings, terror attacks, political dissension, marches, debates, etc., are keeping people wired and in the fight or flight mode. The flow of harmful chemicals is wreaking havoc on us.
Q. Certainly people will not give up their 24-hour access to the world through social media. It has become rather important, both personally and business-wise. Should we rethink how we feel about it?
Joan: Social media, while designed to be an amazing communicative platform, is keeping the stimulation going, and it is destroying our ability to communicate. Social media gives people the opportunity to “speak their mind” without fear of consequence. A few strikes on a keyboard and a “click” and our opinion is known. There is no thought to the consequences or the impact on others. This practice carries over into interpersonal communication, in which people just say whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want.
Sometimes it feels like we no longer have the skills to communicate in an effective, healthy manner. The inability to express our feelings definitely impacts how we perceive life. If we feel like no matter what we say will be debated or shut down, we may hold our emotions in. On the flip side, when someone argues or contradicts what we say in an aggressive manner, that causes pain. Either perception leads to added stress and the cycle continues.
Q. If our own personal thoughts and feelings are in conflict with others, how can we give ourselves an outlet without causing others stress?
Joan: I believe that it is a healthy practice to communicate our feelings, however, when we feel that we cannot express ourselves in a constructive manner, without some form of retribution, I recommend writing them down. Putting words to paper has a purifying effect and enables us to release emotions in a healthy way, thus reducing stress.
Q. What do you do with a friend who is always complaining and stressed? At a certain point, do you have to let the friendship go?
Joan: I am a firm believer that we should surround ourselves with the type of energy we want to bring into our lives. The more positive, supportive people that are in your inner circle, the better. There are some people who are what I call, energy vampires; they suck the life out of you. Being continually exposed to someone who is negative and complains and criticizes is exhausting. Avoid these types of people or limit contact, whenever possible.
Q. I find myself avoiding topics with people, even with those on which I agree with them because they get so riled up about it. What do you do with that, especially if it’s a person you have to interact with all the time, like a husband or co-worker?
Joan: Sometimes it’s not possible to avoid these people as they may be a close relative, a spouse, or long-time friend. In those cases, I recommend you try to understand where that person is coming from, what he or she is experiencing, and how he/she perceives life. Know that you are not the source of his/her behavior and that they are simply projecting what they are feeling onto you. Understanding that they treat everyone in same manner and that it is not you may help you avoid internalizing the bad behavior.
If it is someone close, explain to the person how his/her behavior makes you feel. Sometimes people are not aware of the impact they have on others.
If the person doesn’t listen or respect what you say, and it is making you ill, you may have to limit contact, even with someone who is close. While I never advise walking away from a loved one, in some cases self-preservation must come first.