It’s not the external stressors, per se, that block us from happiness, health and being all we can be in life. Actually, the external stressors in our lives often perform a vital role in our physical, mental and emotional growth. But if happiness isn’t a matter of eliminating external stress, then what is it?
It’s a matter of understanding our perceptions, or how we explain our life and experiences to our self.
At any given moment, your stress levels are raised or lowered by what you perceive to be stress, and how you interpret life events in and around you. Not all persons get stressed in traffic or waiting in lines, for example, and some may even welcome these events as opportunities to relax.
So it’s not about removing stress. It’s about learning how to regulate the thoughts that intensify or calm those emotions that most challenge you, in particular, anger or fear.
How stressed or calm you remain has everything to do with how you habitually think in certain situations.
Your self-talk is key in the operation of your body.
Consciously or not, your mind and body are always in communication.
The language of the mind, however, is distinctly different from that of the body. Whereas your body speaks through bodily sensations and emotions (electrochemical impulses in biological terms) that activate physiological processes and behaviors, your mind uses words and images, in the form of self-talk, to communicate to your body.
What makes your thoughts so powerful is that your self-talk forms a stream of consciousness that is critical to the operation of your body. The cells of your body eavesdrop on this inner self-talk 24-7.
This information is no small matter, especially in key defining moments. The part of the mind that runs the body, the subconscious, relies on this self-talk. It forms the perception filters it depends on to interpret many or most of the experiences going on in and around you, the ones that require more than sensory data. (Your subconscious does not even bother with your thoughts if you accidently touch a hot burner, for example; in an instant, it activates your body’s survival response and pulls your hand away.)
Of course, if you are determined to train your body in mind over matter disciplines, such as walking on hot coals without getting burned or training lions and tigers without getting eaten, you have the capacity to even turn off and control your body’s natural reflex mechanisms.
In most social situations, however, this inner dialogue is a critical window the body tunes into, observes and stays connected to 24/7. It is a critical window for your subconscious, to understand what is happening around you, what you most need (or think you need!), and so on, which allows it to best fulfill its top directives of ensuring you thrive – or at best survive.
In situations where sensory data does not suffice, the mind of your body, or body-self, needs to know how to interpret your experience of events. Based on this information, it can shape your perception filters accordingly, so it may best perform its job of ensuring your survival and, ultimately, prompt you to thrive, to increase the meaning and sense of purpose in life.
Without question, the mind of your body, the subconscious, relies on this inner dialogue to understand your personal experience of your world so that it can best customize the jobs it performs on your behalf.
The quality of communication between mind and body.
Your interpretive thoughts about yourself and what’s happening in and around you, in particular, have such a tremendous effect on every aspect of your life because they affect the quality of communication between your mind and body.
Your life, you may say, is a product of what you think. It is thoughts that decide how you deal with what stresses you because the perceptions you hold to be true establish whether you remain relatively calm in a certain situation – or unnecessarily activate your body’s survival system.
If you were to picture yourself entering a lion’s cage, for example, what feelings does this stir? Most likely, this would automatically activate your body’s survival response. What if you were a trained professional lion tamer, however? In the latter case, you may consider it a treat to enjoy a cup of coffee in the den with your big cats!
How you talk to yourself about what you perceive as stress determines the extent to which your autonomic nervous system remains relatively calm and centered – or unnecessarily activates your survival response.
If you hold beliefs, in other words, that habitually tell your body that you must avoid situations that risk upsetting or angering another at any cost, or that your worth and value depend on proving you can control what another thinks or feels, the quality of your communications will be based on misguided information, lies and illusions, and the like. As a result, you may be unnecessarily scaring your body into believing your survival is at stake, when it is not!
In a nutshell, your mind-self and body-self are engaged in an ongoing conversation in which your mind verbally interprets the events you experience in your body; and your body, in turn, produces emotional states accordingly to mirror back your current set of perceptions. In other words, at any given time, your body acts as your very own, built-in sounding board.
The good news is that you can change any habitual thought-response strategies. They can be unlearned; they are learned neural patterns, reinforced and strengthened to the extent you use them. This may even be what your subconscious mind has been prompting you to do!
In Part 2, how this communication shapes how you relate to your body, thus, the relationship quality between you and your body.