We Are Not Afraid. (A Reply to Recent Headlines)

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A propensity to see threats everywhere and jump to the worst case scenario is a biological response. Many of us feel fearful when a bush shakes, even if that fear is for just a moment. Most of the time it is nothing but a bird or bug. However, the fear is an evolutionary advantage and rewards you greatly in the worst case.

In the article, “Why We See Threats Everywhere ” author Steve Magness reminds us that we feel a stress response when we feel unprepared or out of control. If we feel prepared, the same stimulus will produce a challenge response. Magness describes a challenge response as, “close cousin to a threat response, but where the hormones generally put us in a place to excel.”

He goes on to summarize:

Remember, our stress response is predictive. There is no need to panic if we know we can meet the demands of the event. It’s why research consistently shows that one of the major determinators of whether or not we have a threat response is our perception of control. Can we do something about the threat we are facing, or not? When we lack control, research shows that our [prefrontal cortex] is impaired.

Whatever the recent headline is, chances are that you lack control. This lack of control is likely why you are having a stress response.

As Harvard Health summarizes in “Chronic activation of this survival mechanism impairs health “:

[The stress response] evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety. Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.

…Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much like a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.

The Harvard Health article offers three strategies for countering the stress response:

  • Relaxation response: “These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.”
  • Physical activity: “Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension.”
  • Social support: “…the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain them at times of chronic stress and crisis.”

And the before-mentioned Steve Magness article ends with a list of advice:

  1. Be wary of any media or outlet that clearly tries to evoke a negative emotion. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means you should pause and investigate.
  2. When you feel certain or outraged or passionate about something, it’s a sign to pause, not act. It’s at those moments when the cascade of emotions pushing us towards a behavior are most dangerous.
  3. Get offline. Do more real things in the real world with real people.
  4. Have ways to recharge and check out. To turn the dial down; go on a walk without phones. Have a live like it’s 1995 day: meaning you can use your computer to type in word, but not surf the internet; you can call someone on the phone, but no texting or tweeting.
  5. Be deliberate and intentional with the news-like information you consume. The danger isn’t rap music or video games like my parents thought in the 1990s. We know that’s entertainment. The danger is entertainment disguised as information. That applies to cable news, but also much of social media. There’s a difference between being entertained and informed, don’t confuse the two.

We are all tired of failed apocalyptic predictions and piles of stress without action or change, but there are strategies to achieve a better inner calm.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash. Image has been cropped.

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Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.