STRESS & MINDSET
JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group
15 August 2019
While watching the movie, Croods, with my children this past weekend, I couldn’t get a quote from the introduction out of my head. While one of the main characters is describing how her family survived the cave man era (when many others didn’t), she and her father broach the topic of fear:
Eep: [voice-over] We never had the chance to explore the outside world, because of my dad’s one rule.
Grug: New is always bad! Never not be afraid.
Fortunately for us, we live in an era that requires us to go outside our normal instincts. Fear no longer keeps us alive. In fact, it does the opposite. Fear keeps us from truly being alive. Our instincts were created to keep us safe. But we’ve been able to develop environments that keep us safe. So, we must face our fears in order to advance.
If facing our fears will provide us with advancement, we have to make sure we have control over our biological stress responses. That control will be beneficial only if we have normal stress responses. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris describes the ways in which cortisol and adrenaline can affect the body. If you have a constant fear, you may be unable to focus on the skills you need to face your fears. However, if you’re able to understand what happens within your body, you’ll have a leg up in the game.
Cortisol helps the body adapt to repeated or long-term stressors, like living in bear infested woods or handling prolonged food shortages. Some of the effects of cortisol are similar to those of adrenaline – it raises blood pressure and blood sugar, inhibits cognition (clear thinking), and destabilizes mood. It also disrupts sleep, which makes a lot of sense if you are living in a forest full of bears – better to be a light sleeper. Unlike adrenaline, which can decrease appetite and stimulate fat burning, cortisol stimulates fat accumulation and also triggers the body to crave high-sugar, high-fat foods. High levels of cortisol can inhibit reproductive function because if you are living in a forest next to bears, isn’t it better to wait to have kids until you move to a safer part of the woods?
When our fears are bears and food shortages, it seems to make sense that we’d need the flush of hormones and other biological responses. But when our stressors are less life-threatening (money or relationships), these responses seem less necessary. I imagine we’re in a period of evolution and, with luck, many generations from now our bodies will catch up to our dangers. But in the meantime, we should be aware of the ways our bodies react to fear.
If we’re aware of our bodies, we can focus more on our mindsets. By focusing on our mindsets, we’ll be able to truly face our fears. And when you conquer your fears, you’ll become unstoppable.
Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson