How well do you cope when things go a bit pear-shaped?
When someone sends you a snotty email or text message, is your impulse to respond straight away? When things are difficult, do you reach for the biscuit tin or a cigarette or a glass of wine? There’s no judgement here.
I’m the first to admit I used food in unhealthy ways before I learned how to take care of myself.
I tell all my students that in the old days, before I learned all I know now, my go-to coping mechanism was a packet of Jaffa Cakes. Before I realised something was up, I’d be holding an empty packet and didn’t even remember eating them.
Doing what we’ve always done when under pressure is sometimes called a Habit Loop – it’s used to refer to the coping mechanism we use subconsciously when something’s going wrong. It’s not something you consciously do, it’s the brain’s default position. Let me explain why.
The part of the brain that deals with logic, that says “this isn’t good for you”, works very well when we’re calm, and we resolve to find healthier ways of dealing with our stress. But when our fight or flight response kicks in, the sensible part literally switches off and instead the brain says “what did you do last time to feel better?” – there begins the Habit Loop.
The good news is you can break the habit.
This week, set the intention to Fix the Loop. Start with listing how you know when you’re stressed, and your go-to coping mechanisms. Get curious about how you respond when you’re worried or tense, and maybe ask a friend to help. If you find yourself in the midst of the habit, bring your awareness to it. Fully engage in the moment you’re in, whether it’s eating a biscuit, biting your nails or composing an angry reply. Experience the sounds, tastes and sensations of it all, but without judgement. Just notice what you’re doing – not why – and label the feeling or action in your mind. With patience, and if it would help reaching out for support, you’ll slowly train your brain to let go of what doesn’t work for you.
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©️ Delphi Ellis 2019