Posts tagged with ‘manage your emotions’

30 nov

There Are Gremlins in My Gym Bag

I don’t know what goes on in my gym bag at night – there must be gremlins. When I finish my workout, I neatly roll my earbuds around my iPod and put it back in my bag. When I take it out each morning, the earbud cord is tied in knots, the hair gel container is open and I have only one white sock – grrr!

Here’s the issue. Day in and day out little nuisance things happen to us – little things – you stumble, drop some papers, take a wrong turn, lose your cellphone connection – gremlin things – nuisance things. But for many people, these are “melt down” events. In our busy and over-scheduled lives, little events become big events. And when already frazzled, a truly large event now becomes completely unmanageable.

My family has the “klutz” gene. I inherited it from my mother—she doesn’t think she has it but I see it in action all the time—and have passed it successfully to one of my three kids. We get “gremlin” events all day:

- The cover will stay on others’ Starbucks cups – not ours.

- We’ll guess on one exit on the highway over another and choose the wrong one and need to turn around.

- We’ll reach for the ketchup on the table of a restaurant and knock our silverware on the ground, or get our sleeves in the salad dressing.

I am not looking for sympathy (this may be why we don’t get invited to dinner very often). Rather, it reminds me are human and sometimes just say the wrong thing, knock something over, show up late… But if we get upset by these events, they can actually negatively impact our health.

In 2004 Dr. Robert Sapolsky published a book titled, Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers. In it, he presents that animals and humans are equipped to handle both calm and danger. The parasympathetic system runs all of the routine internal body systems, day in and day out (periods of calm). The sympathetic system is designed to help us survive in a period of danger, stress or euphoria, and interrupts the parasympathetic system.

I am not a scientist, so here is my simple summary of his findings. When we are calm (we are not affected by the “gremlin” or stress events), our internal maintenance systems respond – the heart slows, allows normal blood flow to all of the routine life systems – digestive, circulatory, excretory, reproductive… life stuff. We maintain our bodies internally – we stay healthy.

But when we get upset (the brain senses danger -big or small), it activates a fight or flight response. Blood is called from the maintenance systems and is now directed to organs that will increase our ability to survive (blood vessels are constricted raising the speed and force of the heart’s contraction, widening air passages to the lungs, dilating the pupils for increased perception, releasing glucose into the blood for quick energy, and shifting blood from the intestinal tract to the heart and muscles – paraphrased from How We Live by Sherwin Nuland). We are now ready for a fight or a flight.

Here is the point. The body is designed to handle a temporary fight or flight response. Animals know this. And according to Sapolsky, when the lion gets his prey, or the zebra gets away, the fight or flight response ends and the body resumes its normal response. But humans are different. When we experience recurring gremlin events, we move our systems into a state of perpetual stress; we constantly signal to our bodies to be ready to fight or hit the road. And when this happens, the regular, healthy and maintenance functions of the body are interrupted. The result: ulcers, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.

How we perceive events activates emotions; emotions activate neurological and biological responses in our body. We must train ourselves to manage our emotional responses to all types of events – to know what is danger and what is only a nuisance – to stay healthy and sane. The body is not designed to live in a heightened and perpetual state of fight or flight.

So when gremlin events happen, my kids and I are getting better at shrugging and saying, “I am playing my humanity card. We laugh and move on. Maybe we are good at this because we get so much practice. But we have learned that gremlins in the gym bag, or wrong turns, or spilled coffee is nothing to lose one’s cool about. Not only do we know it is part of being human and will likely happen again, but it also negatively affects our health. We’ll save the big response for legitimate major stress or danger.

Life throws out small tests to get us ready for larger ones. Manage your responses and use fight or flight only when it is needed – the body was designed that way. Learn from the Zebras – they don’t get ulcers. They don’t let the little stuff – the gremlins – get them down. That way, when they need to run, they are really ready – and they survive. And at every other point, they are loving life.

Posted by Jay Forte on November 30th, 2009 in Family, General, Health, New Directions | 1 comment Read related posts in , , , , ,