Excitement is powerful. It can sweep you into a current that leads you to manifest your dreams. Hidden desires surface and ideas flow freely. The fact that we feel excitement about anything, whether planning a trip, making a career change, or learning a new language, is a clue that we have it in us to accomplish this dream.
So what’s holding us up from doing the things that could really enhance our lives? Many of us have never paused long enough to ask ourselves that question. There are the standard knee-jerk answers, which we’ve all either heard or used before: “I don’t have the money. “ “I don’t have the time.” “The kids won’t survive without me there to make their sandwiches.” “It’s too soon. Maybe next time.” Let’s cut to the chase. The first objection that pops into your head when approached with change is usually not the real reason why you deprive yourself of potentially life changing experiences. It may be the most convenient answer, but usually it’s not the core reason. Get still and quiet, and ask yourself again: “What’s really stopping me?” You may be surprised at the response. You may hear: “I’m not good enough and I don’t belong,” “What if I spend this money, and it doesn’t work out. I’ll look like a fool,” “Once I do this, I will see more opportunities for change, and I fear the work that it will entail,” “I fear losing out on the foods I love if I change my diet.” The more unworthy or helpless you feel, the more threatened you feel, due to the fear of not being able to handle change. Feeling the stress of limiting beliefs and the negative emotions associated with them will cause someone to abort the mission before it even has a chance to exist.
One explanation as to why many of us choose not to do the very things that we know would bring excitement and joy into our lives is biological. When encountered with a perceived threat, such as thinking about being rejected after asking someone out on a date, cortisol and epinephrine excrete, leading to jitters, nervous stomach, feelings of panic, even paranoia. High levels of cortisol suppress serotonin production. T and B cells, natural killer cells, and a myriad of other immune cells also flood our system. The body feels as if it is threatened.
All these reactions are the same as when you’re actually in danger. Humans are wired to avoid pain, and even from things that may potentially cause pain. In a potentially stressful situation, our parasympathetic nervous system does not differentiate an emotional threat from physical, so our physical bodies can react almost as if we were in the woods and a wolf walked by.
The biological system may decide to do the most familiar thing, which is withdraw, or seek safety from the perceived threat. In humans this response is known as the “flight” response and is the most primitive way of responding. For example, an amoeba can’t run away, so it does nothing, conserves energy and hopes for the best. In humans, coping mechanisms for avoiding feeling unpleasant emotions (resistance) include watching TV, intellectually overanalyzing, busy work, not being able to relax, and nonstop talking. Holding your breath is also the human body’s way of conserving energy, preparing for withdrawal.
Modern day flight or fight is more like avoidance or approach. You can approach new challenges or opportunities with optimism, or you can avoid them with fear. Putting distance between you and the source of the threat keeps you “safe” from feeling the emotions that come up when you are outside of your comfort zone, but it also keeps you from reaching your goals. So next time you catch yourself immediately saying “no”, holding your breath, or not volunteering for that work presentation, know that it’s your just old amoeba self. Here’s a link to help you evolve out of that.
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Here’s to evolving!
A great source of information for psychoneuroimmunology (what this post is about) is Dr. Nick Hall. I went to one of his seminars after he had just completed another WaterTribe’s Ultimate Florida Challenge (a 1200 mile nautical race, which includes a 40 mile portage)…And he’s 66!! (His bio is pretty incredible.)