How do you feel about roller coasters? (and how this relates to health and hormone balance)
What’s with the roller coaster question?
I know, it’s a rather strange question to be asking on a blog focused on health and hormone balance.
Please just bear with me. I promise it will all tie together.
I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, to answer my own question. Just mention the term “roller coaster” and the first picture that comes to mind is me being flung out of the car hundreds of feet in the air, plunging to my death. It scares me. No, it terrifies me.
Doesn’t my view of the risks of roller coasters make sense? Maybe. Or maybe not. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions estimates the chances of being injured on a roller coaster at one in 24 million, and the chance of being killed at one in 750 million. I’d be more at risk taking a bath. All of that doesn’t enter into the devastating story that I tell myself, though. And it certainly doesn’t help that I’m not in control of that little car speeding along a skinny track, hundreds of feet off the ground!
But then there’s my good friend. She loves roller coasters. The same body-slinging, fast-moving, high-risk rides that I loathe. Even the mention of these high-velocity theme park rides brings a smile and joyful glow to her face! How can that be??? Simple – she’s telling herself a different story.
Same ride, different perceptions of that ride. Same risk, different perceptions of that risk. Same dangers, different perceptions of those dangers.
Neither of us is right or wrong to feel the way we do. We each tell ourselves stories (and endings to those stories) based on our own fears, insecurities, and experiences. It’s important to understand that how we go about doing this can affect our health and hormone balance in a big way.
How perceptions affect health and hormone balance.
Roller coasters are probably not a big part of your daily life, whether you like them or not. But perceptions always are, and that’s what will affect your health, either positively or negatively. If you can learn to recognize when your perceptions help you, and when they hurt you, you will be a BIG step closer to taking back control of how you feel physically and emotionally.
So how you perceive something can put that something in a positive or a negative light. Because of the “story” that is ingrained in my mind, roller coasters cause me to feel fear and panic. My friends rollercoaster story has a joyful and exciting ending with no stress whatsoever. These conflicting “stories” about the exact same experience prove that we each have options when it comes to our thoughts about any situation we face. This is great news for our emotional and physical health! Let’s explore the differences in negative versus positive perceptions in terms of the reaction of the physical body. For this, I’m going to jump from the rollercoaster example to something that almost everyone can relate to – traffic.
Negative perceptions cause bad stress.
Let’s say you’re traveling down the highway on your way to work. You left 5 minutes later than you should have and, to make a bad situation worse, there was an accident so traffic is now backed up for miles. You could walk faster than your car is moving.
It’s a pretty inconvenient situation. Your boss is going to be angry. You will probably miss a very important meeting. You don’t have time to stop for your morning coffee. Tension hits. You feel it in your hands, knuckles white from a tighter than usual grasp on the steering wheel. Your teeth are clenched. Your dialogue to yourself goes something like this:
I can’t believe how irresponsible you are. You knew you should have left early. You have to stop dawdling in the morning. What if you lose the client because you miss the meeting? What if your boss is angry? What if … what if … what if…?
Now, you may not even realize you have these conversations with yourself. But you definitely do. Try to pay attention to them and switch them around to sound more like you are talking to your very best friend. Here’s one possible alternate dialogue:
Well, it looks like I’m going to be late. I guess I got pretty lucky today – if not for my dawdling it could have been me in that accident up ahead. Wow, I have a meeting that I might miss. It’s good that traffic is basically at a standstill so I can call into the office to explain the situation and try to reach my client before he leaves to meet me. Tonight I’ll get to bed by 10 and set my alarm for 6 so that I can take my time getting ready. That always makes me feel my best.
Okay, so maybe you’re thinking that I’m being a bit unrealistic with the positive dialogue above. After all, you’re in the heat of a stressful situation so are you really going to be able to switch off those negative emotions? The answer is yes. I assure you that you can train yourself to create a variety of stories for the same situation. It takes time and awareness.
Think about it: both of the scenarios above are examples of you telling yourself a story – one negative and one positive, neither of which have become reality yet. If you don’t know what the actual outcome of the situation is yet, why not tell yourself the story that makes you feel better, both emotionally and physically?
Stress comes when you don’t feel you have control.
Research confirms that the sense of having little or no control is always distressful.
Scenario #1, where you beat yourself up for being late and imagine all the worst-case outcomes, represents you feeling completely out of control. In fact, the only thing you could control – the time you left home – you totally screwed up by leaving late! Then the accident, then the traffic, then all of the ramifications that you can’t control – the reactions of your boss and client. You perceive that you are powerless in this situation.
In contrast, in the second scenario, you take total control. Realizing that you left late, you decide there are adjustments that can be made to your schedule that will actually benefit you (and your health!) Also, you look at your “mistake” of leaving late as a Godsend; had you left on time, you may have been a victim of that accident. The standstill traffic gives you the opportunity to give everyone a heads-up on your situation and save your client a trip. And, as far as your boss is concerned, why assume that she will be angry? She may have been in the same traffic backup. So you wait to deal with that situation until you know it is a situation!
What your perceptions can do to your body
You can see via the examples above that stress doesn’t always come from reality. More often it is the result of your imagined reality; your storytelling. This opens up a whole slew of possibilities when it comes to getting your health back because right off the bat you can eliminate the stress in your life that isn’t real. It’s big-time worth it to do this because here’s what all of those stressful, negative perceptions do to your body:
All of the above is normal and not unhealthy if it happens every once in a while in response to a serious threat. But I challenge you to pay attention to “tension”. Meaning, be aware of those times when your body tenses up in response to a situation, like traffic, that you perceive as stressful. I bet you’ll find that it happens more often than you would suspect.
If I’m right and you spend much of your day feeling stressed or tense, all of those things above are happening all the time! That causes health problems and imbalances ranging from increased inflammation to increased blood pressure to impaired digestion and immunity!
On the flip side, if, when you feel tense, you practice breathing deeply along with changing your perception of what is going on at the moment – exploring positive ways of looking at the same old stressful stuff – your body can stay relaxed. And that, my friend, is the ONLY time when good health and balance can return.
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