There has been a tragic trend recently in my part of the world – an alarming increase in suicide statistics. It seems men are particularly at risk, and financial stress is often the trigger.
This has saddened me immensely, leading to the question:
What can we do to help?
The thing is most problems begin in a relatively manageable way. But like a cardiac condition, over time they can escalate into a life threatening crisis. Why, when stressful emotions initially only last a few seconds or a minute, don’t they just pass?
Because when you’re stressed, your brain can act like a TV channel that specializes in re-runs of old movies—scary movies. And the more stressed you are the more your brain is unable to change channels.
Our society also puts a heavy emphasis on self sufficiency—sometimes too heavy.
This reluctance to reach out for help may be because the implications of facing the problem are potentially life altering in some way. When you’re faced with a situation that requires a radical shift in perception; one that if you were to face it has terrifyingly painful consequences, it can make you respond irrationally (cognitive dissonance).
Sometimes it’s our pride or ego that gets in the way; sometimes its shame, or a fear of being vulnerable. It can be a question of control; the risk of surrendering your independence may be too intimidating.
And sometimes we’ve just been so conditioned to manage alone we don’t realize that there is the option of help.
So, let me put it another way, would you attempt DIY heart surgery when there’s a highly qualified surgeon who specializes in cardiac conditions available?
The cost—financially, and in a multitude of other ways, of neglecting the many negative impacts of stress is increasing worldwide. And there IS something we as individuals and as company leaders can do. We can create a culture, where it’s okay to admit when you’re struggling; a culture that encourages reaching out for team support; a culture that embraces the power of sharing—the power of synergy.
What is synergy?
Synergy is the result of two or more organisms producing a greater result than each is capable of achieving individually.
Nature is full of species that perform services for each other that neither could perform alone. Think zebras and African oxpeckers. The zebras provide a source of food for these little birds—the ticks on their backs.
And what do the zebras stand to gain? Oxpeckers not only act as an environmentally friendly pest control system but also make a hissing sound whenever they’re frightened—making them an alarm system for the zebras.
Then there’s human intestinal bacteria found in our small intestine. It helps break down the food we consume, while we indirectly feed these bacteria when we eat.
The point is, trying to deal with stressful challenges single handed can cost us (and those who care about us) dearly—slowly eating away at our health, our relationships, our families, our careers, businesses or self-confidence—even eating away at our will to live!
The cost of NOT sharing our problems can often be far greater than the cost of getting appropriate help.
Extreme self sufficiency is one of the reasons anxiety and stress induced depression are on the increase. We’re terrified of sharing and being shared with, so we cut off our most vital solution source and energy supply.
I was recently watching a baby learn how to walk. There he was, nappied butt in the air, chubby, uncoordinated limbs straining, grunting and groaning and breathing like a steam train; drooling from the effort, pulling himself up on peoples’ legs, tables, tree trunks, every available piece of furniture—and even the dog. Whatever was available to give him leverage, he used. And as he took one tumble after another (we adults would call it failure) he smiled gleefully, while we all laughed, and applauded; and HELPED. This little guy’s walking mission was a group effort. Even the dog played his part!
But as adults we live in a society that obsesses about independence, competition, clearly defined outcomes, social divisions, and perfection (whatever that may be).
We dare not risk reaching out for help because we’re afraid to seem silly, needy or incompetent.
SOS is a fast, simple antidote:
Stop! Take time out to B R E A T H E, as soon as you feel the stress response kicking in. The simple act of slowing your breathing automatically shifts your attention away from whatever triggered the stress response, and sends a cascade of calming chemicals throughout your body.
FOcus Elsewhere! Change mental tracks for a while. Pick a completely different activity to focus on. This allows you to reset your emotions, regain perspective and re-engage your brain’s solution center. It’s impossible to solve a problem when emotions are running high—your rational brain is temporarily Out of Order.
Synergy! Reach out and embrace the power of synergy. Situations that seem impossible to handle on your own become infinitely simpler and easier when you tap into the power of synergy.
How can you make this SOS system your default response?
Developing new brain habits is just like developing new muscle habits in the gym.
You don’t get a six pack by doing crunches once in a while. You get it by doing crunches every day!
And so it is with training your brain’s responses. It can take as little as five minutes a day to build healthy emotional responses.
Isn’t it worth the effort to prevent the risk of stress escalating into illness, regret, trauma or tragedy?
So, if you’re struggling—stop, focus elsewhere and harness the power of synergy.