We just celebrated Halloween and in keeping with that theme, let’s explore imaginary monsters and your brain.
Recall as a child lying in bed and being scared of the dark.
Your mind imagines the monster under your bed. The creature is slowly crawling out from under the bed to pull you down; never to be seen again. You are frozen in fear just waiting, your five senses are on high alert, and every little sound sends your heart racing knowing for sure this is the moment the monster is going to grab you!
Wow! Just going to bed can produce serious stress and anxiety!
The only relief was to have a little light in the room so you could override that imaginary monster and actually see that there was nothing there.
Are you still running from those imaginary monsters?
Probably, and you may not even realize it!
The ability of our brain to imagine things has lead to many great inventions and discoveries. After all, if we never imagined flying to the moon, it never would have happened.
But as great as it is to imagine the possibilities of good things, our brains also can imagine bad things, and this ability contributes to the high levels of stress and anxiety we see in our society today.
The part of our brain that triggers the stress response is the amygdala. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in your brain triggered by danger. Simply put when this part of the brain is triggered, it overrides the thinking brain, and you react.
This “reaction trigger” was helpful and effective when we were living among the bears and others beasts. It’s not so helpful today when we are trying to go about our daily lives. You see this part of the brain responds to real threats the same way it responds to imagined threats.
This is where the difficulty arises, and your ability to determine the difference between real or imaginary threats is critical to lowering your stress and anxiety levels!
Recall how real the fear was when you laid in your bed and imagined the monsters coming to get you. The fear felt real because your nervous system believed it was under attack and produced a chemical stress response cycle even though no monsters existed.
Consider some of today’s imaginary monsters:
1. What if I don’t get that job? What will I do? How am I going to pay my bills? I’m going to be a failure!
2. He was so upset last night. What if he breaks up with me?
3. The team was so disappointed when I told them there would be no raises. How am I going to keep them motivated? What if they quit? Then how will I make it?
4. I’m never going to arrive on time with this traffic. They’re going to think poorly of me that I can’t even show up on time for my own meeting!
These daily imaginary monsters turn on your stress response cycle and can leave you feeling stressed and anxious to the point of exhaustion. These thoughts are constantly triggering your fight, flight, freeze response and left untreated this condition can lead to adrenal fatigue and other physical health problems.
One of the most powerful ways to take back control is to ask yourself a simple question:
“Am I being chased by imaginary monsters right now?”
Then look around, and notice what is really in front of you.
As a child, you literally turned on the light, which allowed you to look around the room and recognize that the sound you heard was not a monster, but actually the dog climbing out from under the bed.
So when you realize you’re being chased by imaginary monsters, sit up and turn on your metaphorical brain light and check in with yourself.
When you check in with yourself, you’ll often discover that you’re sitting in your car, washing the dishes or on the computer and that nothing is actually attacking you.
You’re not freezing to death or bleeding uncontrollably, in fact, you might even realize you are quite comfortable; this is a good time to recognize that your brain was momentarily hijacked by imaginary monsters, and take some deep breaths to remind yourself that at this moment everything is fine.
This action brings your mind and body back into the present, and the present is the most powerful place to exist.