Survival Smarts, Part 5: Don’t Burn Out
Suppose that you choose not to practice getting present to your own magnificence. You continue to let the world come at you fast. You continue not to have your essential calm presence meet and stand up to the world. When you are not present in your inner power, some of what comes at you will bowl you over and overwhelm you. Have you heard this saying of Alexander Hamilton? ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’
Not present to your life and power, the world knocks you over. You feel surprised, abused and misused. You lose health, become depressed and develop resentment that fries your adrenals. You may create a victim personality, complain, and eventually burn out. Chronic stress leads to burnout and exhaustion that can cause serious physical degeneration and bring early death.
No discussion about stress carries on for long before the name Hans Selye comes up. Who’s he? Selye studied stress and came up with a theory of stress in the late 1930s. He spent the next 40 years expanding on the topic. He observed and described the way creatures deal with stress as a 3-stage process that he called the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ (GAS).
He called the first stage alarm. You react to threats to your wellbeing. Perception and interpretation lead to a mobilization of fight or flight response, which involves adrenal glands (cortisol & adrenaline), the hypothalamus in the brain, the sympathetic nervous system and the master pituitary gland below the brain.
The second stage he called resistance. You remain on high alert against the continuing stressor, and heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and breathing remain elevated, but other than that, everything appears normal. Your system continues to direct effort against the source of stress.
He called the third state exhaustion. Over time, a sustained stressor burns you out. All your stress-fighting resources get used up. At this point, a small additional stress can make you sick or kill you. GAS can be body-wide or local, and involves inflamed tissues and the immune system’s repair processes. Selye’s work outlined what happens in a body that is the victim of stress.
Selye did NOT address the fact that something within you is beyond stress and can never get stressed or burned out. When you dwell there, you leave the stress outside. Of course, if the stress physically threatens you, running (if you assess you’ll lose) or fighting (if you assess you’ll win) is important for survival. But most of your stressors today are mental. In actuality, they’re not life threatening but you perceive them to be so and the same system kicks into gear.
Most people don’t distinguish clearly between the physical and mental stresses with which they deal in their day. Bring your awareness back to life. This removes you from the mental stress realm. When you do that, you become more resilient and deal more productively with mental stresses. Instead of merely coping with stress, you shift your focus to appreciating and enjoying your life.
Ultimately, the only cure for most of the stresses in your life is the feeling of inner peace, contentment and calmness. No stress can reach that place within you. Not even death can go there. From that place, you see what’s not apparent when your amygdala has been hijacked. From that place, choices and options in meaning and action abound and are available to you. These lead to better outcomes and an improved quality of your life.
I’ve had thousands of conversations with people who felt stressed, overwhelmed and burned out. I tell them, “I’ll walk with you into your deepest darkness, and we’ll walk out together back into the light.” I don’t fear darkness because I know that I’m the light in my darkness, as you are the light in yours. You can know that light because you ARE that light.
Did you know that the light in you has never met the darkness in you? Where there’s light, there’s no darkness. Where there’s darkness, there’s no light. Light and darkness don’t coexist and they can’t talk to each other. Furthermore, darkness yields to light but light does not yield to darkness. Why is that? Light is a presence of power and energy. Darkness is absence of the power and energy of light. Darkness is nothing. No matter what’s going on, you can choose to give attention to the power and presence of light or the nothing and absence of darkness.
Ready for more? You can read the next installment here.