Tag Archives: Stress

Healthier Together Series: 7D. Putting it all together – 3 Steps to Optimizing Function & Recovery

When there is uncertainty, mixed messaging and highly reactive emotions swirling around, it is easy for extreme feelings to be overpowering and hijack your mind.

In these times, to be effective, it is helpful to develop a way to get back in control of what we can control: our mind.

The good news is that there are simple concepts and tools that can help you understand your mind and re-establish your focus to where you can function at your best and that can help you do what you need to do next.

The concept I will use today was first introduced to me by Dr. Leonard Marcus, one of the authors of the book, You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When it Matters Most. He is also one of the Founding Co-Directors at the Harvard National Preparedness Initiative. It has been adapted for use now.

First, think of your mind as a building with three levels. The Top Floor is the penthouse where there are rooms all around and you have a great view! When your mind operates here, you have a 360 degree view of everything, you have good perspective, you are in full control of thinking, and you can see all the options.

The level below that is the Ground Level. This is the workroom of the brain and mind. It’s where we are when we solve problems and get things done. This is where our training, experience, and skills are automatically and easily accessible. Most of our time is spent on the ground level, and most other people will be here.

When your mind operates in one of these top two levels, things typically run smoothly and effectively. This is what most of us would consider a “Good Day.”

Stella Tzertseveli/Unsplash
Source: Stella Tzertseveli/Unsplash

But below these two levels is the Basement, the place where your mind goes when you are very upset, scared, anxious or angry. A crisis can throw someone into the Basement instantaneously from any of the top two floors.

When someone is in the Basement, it is dark and scary. There is limited visibility and it is hard to see options. The heart rate may increase, and that person may feel sweaty or have an upset stomach.

While people try to avoid falling into the Basement, we all end up there sometimes. However, going to the Basement is not the problem. Our body has normal reactions that help us survive when we are there. The problem is the getting stuck in the Basement. When you do, the mind has been hijacked and it has difficulties thinking and operating clearly. It reacts in natural, yet primitive ways.

Fortunately, there are three things you can do to walk yourself up from the Basement and get back on a path that puts your mind in control so you can do what you need to do next. With regular practice of these three skills, you can get out of the Basement faster.

3 Steps to Get Out of the Basement:

1. Recognize when you or someone else is in the Basement.

This is perhaps the most important step. When you realize you are there, then you can also know that you need to get out of the Basement so that your mind can function better and see more options.

At times, you will recognize someone else is in the Basement. They may be furious or panicking or somehow seeming irrational. They can drag others into the Basement with them.  We’ve all been there, no need to judge.

When you recognize someone else is in the Basement, you know that you can avoid getting dragged into it and even help to bring them up with you.

Remember that falling into the Basement is natural. It is not the problem. The problem is getting stuck in there. But, you have the ability to walk yourself out of the Basement.

2. Follow a protocol that includes a script.

  • Pause and take a slow, deep belly breath.
  • Repeat to yourself:
    • “I can do this.”
    • “I have successfully managed challenges in the past.” (Visualize a time when you were wildly successful with something that felt almost impossible and you felt very proud and impressed with yourself.)
    • “Big picture: [State a fact that is true, i.e., “This is temporary. I am strong and capable. I have the skills to handle unexpected events.”]
    • “We are all in this together.” [Statement that links you to others]
    • “We can do this.”
  • Now you have walked yourself up from the Basement and can re-engage.

3. Do what you need to do next.

To clarify, many people try to avoid going to the Basement. Sometimes, this is unavoidable. Unexpected things happen that can throw us down there. However, the key is to limit the time spent there and avoid getting dragged in by others. When you recognize you or someone else is in the Basement, you will now have the tools to allow you to get yourself and others out. With practice, your ability to get out of the Basement will get faster and faster until it becomes a reflex.

By using this simple concept and tool to get out of the Basement quickly, you can get back into the Ground Level workroom where you will be able to manage your mind and function at your best.

First Published on Psychology Today Emerging Wisdom Blog.

 

Joys of Accepting and Mastering Discomfort (aka. Stress Management and Mastery)

Reflect back on your life. The further back you remember, the more you can find what stands out and matters most to you. Do your best, your happiest, your most cherished memories include relationships that had ups and downs? Do they include new experiences that could not be predicted, no matter how small or mundane? Do they include memories when you worked really hard and achieved something that seemed impossible and you felt so proud? Do they include those thrilling moments when you knew you had created something incredible?

Yes. The greatest joys and personal growth often come from moments in life when you work through the discomfort and get to the other side. There are times in life when we accept or are forced to accept situations that we do not choose, that throw us into the unpredictable and uncontrollable, that make us uncomfortable. We all have to get to the other side of that. Let me share with you how you can make that journey a bit easier.

Here are the steps to mastering the discomfort. Writing this down or talking about this with a close confidant or neutral person can be helpful.

  1. Identify your discomfort and figure out what is in your control and what is not in your control. What is causing you discomfort? Why? Describe and label it.
  2. Take what is NOT in your control & “put it away.” Imagine putting it into a storage container or a mental file cabinet or write it down and put it away. You can re-visit this later -if you want.
  3. Take what IS in your control & “work it.” Think about best and worst case scenarios.
  4. Consider worst case scenarios and figure out ahead of time everything in your control – that you can do – to prevent the worst case scenario and make a plan to do that. Figure out how you would manage it if the worse case still came to be. Consider how that scenario could be the Universe (whatever higher power you believe in) delivering you a gift to teach you something important you need to learn, to benefit you or another being, or to propel your personal growth forward and upwards. Recognize you are resilient and accept that you are doing the best you can with what IS in your control.
  5. Now, spend time focusing on what you DO want to have happen, the outcome you ARE aiming for. Visualize, dream, brainstorm, strategize and make plans to go for the BEST case scenario. Define it, label it, “see it.” Regularly repeat this step- the more the better.

Mastery is when you are in control of the discomfort rather than the discomfort in control of you. Remember that everything happens for a reason and we may not know the reason right away. Appreciate that the discomforts in our life are there as messages to help us refocus. Accept that there will be those times of discomfort and then make a plan to master the discomfort and keep moving forward. You’ve got this.

A Tool for High Performers: The Caffeine Nap

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We’ll keep this quick, because you have things to do. As a physician of high performers, sleep is a common discussion topic. Due to travel across time zones, irregular schedules, long days, responsibilities and/or having lots on the mind, there are times when sleep is limited and yet we need to be able to perform. Here’s a common formula: [Feeling Sleep Deprived & Tired] + [No Time for Full Night’s Sleep] + [Need to Perform at Peak Capacity] = [Unnecessary Unhealthy Stress.] This can be treated or prevented.

Here’s one tool (of many) that you may find helpful for those times: The Caffeine Nap*. (*If you have a caffeine sensitivity, are responsible for operating heavy machinery or are driving or flying, this is NOT recommended.)

1. Set alarm for 30 minutes.

2. Drink an unsweetened coffee or espresso.

3. Nap. (We will review HOW to fall asleep quickly in a future post)

4. Wake up to the alarm as your caffeine kicks in and your mind is in “Game On!” Mode.

5. Know that you’ve got this.

Let me know how you’re doing. Drop me a line.

3 Questions for a More Joyful Life

assorted flowers in shallow focus lens

As a physician, I hear so many stories and witness so many ways to live life. Here is what I have observed and learned from those who live joyful lives. It’s so simple. We can all learn to live joyfully. At the start of each day, focus on being able to answer YES to these 3 questions:

  1. Did I genuinely laugh today?
  2. Did I experience love today?
  3. Do I have 3 “things” I am grateful for today? (for example: experiences, people, animals, privileges, surprises, gifts, blessings, etc.)

At the end of each day, answer the 3 questions. If you do not answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, reflect on your day and think about how to spend tomorrow, so that you can add another “yes” to the end of your day tomorrow.

person holding lighted sparklers

If you can genuinely answer “yes” to each of these, you were present for joy in your day and you had a perfect day. You may want to write a note to remind you about the details for each answer. Over time, you will have a personal journal of moments of joy in your life. How fun that will be to read.

The universal power of laughter, love and gratitude are immense…and contagious. They connect us to each other and to our universe. The more you practice this, the more joyful your life will be and it will spread to those around you.

***If you’d like to share your joy, add it to the comments below.***