Have you ever thought about what makes you you?
When you say, “I’m not myself today”, what does it mean? Who are you and how did you become that person?
The podcast I listened to today got me thinking about this as the guest discussed the effect of stress on our emotions and behaviour. Dr Tara Swart is a medical doctor, neuroscientist and executive coach, specialising in helping Type A people deal with stress and burnout, and she explained that when we’re stressed, the hormones that manage stress send signals to the brain to redirect blood flow away from the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that helps us think clearly, plan, and regulate our behaviour.
If you’ve experienced a sleepless night worrying about something and later thought, “why did I think that was such a big deal? It’s really not much of a problem at all”, that’s a good example of how the brain gets hijacked by stress hormones.
But imagine what happens when you’re chronically stressed – when an email from your boss, a loud outburst from your kid, an empty bottle of milk in the fridge when you were just about to have some cereal all have the capacity to send you over the edge.
I remember feeling that way. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I can laugh anymore. I don’t find anything funny.” I remember having no energy and feeling as though nothing was worth the effort.
What does this have to do with Joy?
When we’re trying to control other people or our environment, we end up changing ourselves.
This was an idea Dr Swart talked about on the podcast and it really hit me. I thought about all the times I’ve tried to get my daughter to tell me what’s going on in her life so I could support her more fully through all the difficult stuff that comes with being a teenager, but it’s been challenging.
When I first started this blog series, I was regularly checking her phone. In truth, that’s something I was still doing as recently as two weeks ago, but this podcast got me thinking. Whenever I sneak around trying to piece together the things I know she’s not telling me, I get stressed, suspicious and closed off. I become withdrawn and when she talks to me about random, off-the-cuff stuff, I deem it “irrelevant” and feel resentful.
Looking at it through the lens of this podcast episode, I can see my own stress creating the wall between us by changing how I behave, and when you think about “who I am”, how can that question be answered without “what I do” featuring too?
I’m rushing today so am not sure I’ve made sense of this idea or written about it particularly eloquently, so I’ll have to come back to it but, for me, the gist is this: when I am not stressed, I’m kinder. When I’m kinder, I’m also more accepting. When I’m more accepting, nothing feels like that big a deal, and when nothing is that big a deal, people (including, but not limited to, my daughter) respond to me differently. My relationships are more pleasurable and fulfilling, my life feels more purposeful and all of that comes together to spark enormous joy.