Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page
In my last blog I talked about my habit of speeding up while driving and the need for me to monitor my speed regularly and slow myself down. And I talked about how we can do that with our emotions, behaviours and thoughts, so that we counterbalance unwanted habits.
So, for example, you can monitor your stress levels and do something to reduce stress, rather than let it build up unnoticed. At the end of the blog last time I posed the question of whether you can stop getting stressed in the first place. Can you get to the root cause of your emotions and change them there, rather than managing and monitoring them?
Well, the short answer to that question is that yes, I believe you can – but often it’s not very easy. To start with, it’s not easy to understand why we get stressed, or fearful, or sad – or indeed, happy – in different circumstances. I know that being late stresses me, whereas it doesn’t bother other people in the slightest. And why are people scared by different things? Why do we cry in different circumstances?
It’s all very personal and often these things go back a long way. When we are children we are very flexible and our brains are developing rapidly. We develop not only our knowledge but also our connections. We experience emotions much more strongly as children and so experiences – or stories – can make a deep impression, especially if repeated. So if an older brother liked to tease you with stories of bogey men coming to get you at night, you might well end up scared of the dark. If days at the seaside are always sunny and happy, you will probably feel happy at the sight of the sea as an adult.
Patterns are developed from our experiences – but of course we can’t always remember our experiences, especially if they happened at a young age, and so it can be hard to understand why the connections are there. Why do certain types of music affect us in different ways? Why is red your favourite colour? Why are you attracted to people with brown eyes? These preferences may go back to the cradle.
The answers to many of these questions of our likes and dislikes may not matter, but if you want to change – to overcome your fear of spiders, or to stop getting stressed when you are late – it can be helpful to understand the connections, because what you need to do is to change them, to re-wire your brain, in a way.
I think I know why I get stressed when I am late. My mother was always on a tight schedule in the mornings – to catch a bus across London for her work – and so if I was slow to get ready, I’d make her late, and she’d be stressed and maybe get annoyed with me. So now, when I am running late, and find my stress levels rising, I can fight that childhood connection. “I am not 5 years old, my mother is not late for work, I am not in trouble. I am just a few minutes late for an unimportant meeting. Nobody will get angry with me”.
In the moment, this sort of mantra can help to reduce my stress levels. Repetition of these messages can change the connections in my brain. The connections are made by repetitions as a child and, once understood, they can be changed by repetitions as an adult. A problem is, however, that as adults, our brains are much less flexible than they are when we are children, so the connections are slower to break and slower to rebuild.
But can it be done? Yes, for sure.