Stress Fractures: Mental Health in our Daily World

I got pulled over by the cops for a driving violation a few days ago. It was 430 PM and the light where I can typically make a right on red onto a freeway onramp has different rules between 4 PM and 7 PM – no right on red. I am so stressed these days I can’t see straight – balancing multiple jobs, 2 kids as a single parent, significant financial difficulties, and a dream that does not want to come true yet.

Stress is a mind-f**k. In fact, cortisol, the stress hormone, has negative cognitive effects – basically there are biological reasons we don’t think straight when we are under stress. This can get dangerous when we are faced with automatic tasks such as driving. My inner computer was running too many programs simultaneously, when a new input came in – it couldn’t process it fast enough, and even as I made the turn I knew I did something wrong –I was just not processing fast enough.

I ended up attempting to give the traffic officer an eloquent description of why I did what I did (I told him about cortisol and cognitive failures and the processing deficits of simultaneous inputs and the poor guy probably was so bored he wanted to get rid of me), and I received a written warning. It gave me pause. We all think we are superhuman – that our inner CPUs can run numerous high demand programs and not miss a beat. Think again.

Driving may be one of the most automatic things we do – like riding a bike, we don’t think about it – and so we think it is simpler than it is. Driving is also one of the most dangerous things we do. Stress is a bad add-on here. This time it was ok – I just made a right on red at a certain time – but it was a wakeup call to slow the hell down and drive when I drive. Thinking about all I need to do isn’t going to change my life, and it and may hurt me or someone else.

Interestingly, the other place where stress can impact an automatic behavior is eating. We may start our day with the best of intentions – lean protein, multigrain, water with lemon. Then the day happens – traffic, late meetings, evil colleagues, grumpy children – and we automatically start reaching for cupcakes, wine, and other junk.

Stress undercuts us secretly and can lead us to make a thousand errors a day – ranging from chocolate to traffic tickets. However, we can’t get rid of the stress – the kids are still there, the bills have to be paid, and the freeway is still backed up.

So what’s a person to do? Stop. Breathe. Listen. Since my little almost-ticket fiasco, I now drive when I drive. I stop completely at a stop sign – and take a breath (aggravates the hell out of the people behind me at the stop sign). I signal. This applies to all areas of our life – our kitchens, offices, homes. Stop. Breathe. Listen. You may make fewer mistakes, and actually get more out of each moment. Give it a shot. Beats traffic school.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 at 11:29 am and is filed under Health and Wellness, Media and Mental Health, Weight Loss, Diet, and Exercise. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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