It is time to be fascinated!
A few years ago I went to hear Jeff Foster speak. I don’t know how exactly to describe Jeff Foster, so it is best if you come up with your own description. My big take away from the experience was the word “fascinating”. Anyone who knows me, works with me, or has heard me speak knows that “fascinating” is now part of my nomenclature. Why the word “fascinating”?
What I gleaned from Jeff’s message was that we all get triggered. We have core issues or traumas, no matter how simple or complex they may be. What I know is that our triggers can be set off by things occurring now, memories, imagined events, or future fears. We carry these through life as part of who we are. Some of these triggers occurred prior to our development of language, or cognitive processing (pre-birth through about age 8) so attempting to release them by talking is not really all that productive. Instead Jeff encourages us to embrace them and notice the feelings as they come up without judgment, and simply refer to them as “fascinating”. I frequently notice my fear of isolation or not being seen (one my core triggers) and now when it comes up, instead of reacting to it, I can simply say, “Fascinating. There is it again. Hmmm”. I save myself a great deal of stress, problem solving time, energy, exhaustion and frequently regret when instead of reacting to the trigger, I simply respond by noticing and being fascinated by it’s reappearance.
In my workshops I tell people that the work of self-awareness is not to get rid of our triggers. The work of self-awareness is to be able to notice when we are being triggered and to simply be “fascinated”. It brings people great relief.
What happens physiologically when we are triggered by something that feels threatening or scary to our sense of self, safety and security is our wonderful little adrenal glands begin pumping out cortisol and adrenaline. These two amazing hormones are pumped out to help our body and brain respond to threats – real or imagined. The triggering event can be as simple as someone pointing a finger in your face to make a point, or as big as a car backfiring on a busy street – it all depends on your own journey. The important piece is not to judge your triggers or anyone else’s.
When the triggering event occurs, or as we imagine it might (future tripping), cortisol and adrenalin rush through our blood system into our large muscles, diminishing our ability to think clearly and calmly. We essentially become physically primed for fight or flight. For some of us our heart races, our palms get sweaty or our chest constricts. For others, symptoms are far more unique or subtle. One client I work with gets a pain in her left big toe. She only experiences that pain when she is triggered. This is so helpful to her as a signal she is being triggered (even though her ability to think clearly and calmly is diminished) and she can begin being fascinated instead of reacting.
But why am I talking about this now.
We are coming up to one of the most triggering times of year. Just the fact that the holiday season, the season of light, is supposed to be about joy, abundance, family, memories and tradition can be triggering. Regardless of our background or experience this time can present challenges for all of us. You may not recognize this in co-workers or community members simply because we spend a lot of time and energy engineering and marketing our lives to look perfect. Perhaps childhood holidays were bumpy or disappointing, but they have now created the picture perfect vision of the American holiday season. Perhaps they experienced loss of a loved one or tragedy during the holiday season. Perhaps they are living closer to the edge than we can know and their projected fears of what may happen keep them in the fight or flight mode with every advertisement, invitation or company budget meeting. A range of words, events, images, concepts, smells and sounds can trigger a fight or flight response – all unbeknownst to many of us.
As gift to yourself and to those around you during this holiday season, I encourage you to practice self-awareness. Become friends with what Dr. Mary Kay Stenger calls your PGS – Personal Guidance System. This is a dashboard of feelings in your physical body that, like warning lights on your car, provide early signals that your adrenal glands are doing their work. Train yourself to notice when you begin to feel the signs– the tightening of your chest, the increase of your heart rate, a sudden flare up in joint pain, a flushed face, whatever it may be for you.
And perhaps even more important, walk softly, gently and with compassion knowing that in today’s world while we may not need to protect our family from saber tooth tigers, our flight or flight response is still triggered by images, sounds, sights, smells, words, actions and even television shows. Honor that each of us carries years of experiences that may easily be brought back to us unknowingly through our valuable trigger reactions.
So what can you do?
The best way (aside from pharmaceuticals) to calm down the fight or flight response is:
Breathe. Flood your system with oxygen. During flight or flight the oxygen gets rerouted primarily to large muscle systems and the part of the brain that keeps us calm and reasonable receives less. Flooding your system with oxygen can restore the balance and short circuit the fight or flight response.
Notice. Notice what is happening in your body and simply remind yourself that this is “fascinating” versus a time when you need to fight (verbally attack, manipulate, become sarcastic or defend) or flee (withhold, shut down, physically leave, withdraw) and let yourself know that all is okay. You have tools to take good care of and protect yourself. You aren’t at risk.
Ground. Ground yourself in what is true in this moment. This moment is the only one that matters. When I started my business (and sometimes still) I would wake up in the night panicking and thinking, “What if I don’t get work?” “What if I can’t pay my mortgage?” “What if I become homeless?” My chest would tighten and I would have a tough time breathing. Then I would remember to say, “In this moment I have enough work. I have food in the kitchen. I have a home I love. I am safe.” And I could feel all the physical symptoms dissipate.
Gratitude. Our brain can’t hold thoughts of fear, anxiety and panic at the same time as it holds gratitude. Say to yourself “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Feel the change in your body.
And lastly, practice living these words: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about*.
Become self-aware and truly navigate the upcoming season of light with authentic joy and abundance!