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Stress Awareness Month Insight #7 - Stop it!

When we start paying attention to our feelings and reactions, almost as if by magic, patterns begin to come into view. With patterns comes power.


Because of two things. First, noticing patterns puts you back in the driver’s seat. You are less and less captive to unconscious reactions or behaviors. Even if you can’t kick it just then, recognizing that this isn’t “you” but some looping script from the past, enables you to start to change it. Patterns want you to believe that they are you – that this crazy reaction or habit or decision or go-to maneuver is you, you at your best, you doing what you need to do for you. But when you see it as a pattern, you realize you’ve been played. At that point, you can upend the game.


Second, patterns are a gift. They were a gift to you in the past, probably to help you survive in some important way, way back when. But now, even when they no longer serve you – when you’re hijacked or frozen or reactionary or burned out or frazzled or anxious-brain-fogged – when you realize they are a pattern, you know they’re pointing at something important, something you’ve probably been avoiding digging into.


When we have patterned or repeated stressful reactions, there are two healthy, proactive ways to deal with them. One of the great things about patterns is that, since they repeat, you can plan ahead for them. In the short term, simply plan ahead to make sure those situations don’t happen, or happen less. These can be simple preventative measures, or broadly encompassing. It doesn’t matter. Your ideas might work, or maybe not. Don’t care; try again.


If you’re coming up against a feeling or behavior in the same situations over and over, it’s like that old joke. “A man comes to his doctor and says, ‘Doc, it hurts when I do this.’ The Doctor looks at him and says, ‘Well, don’t do that.’” Or the Bob Newhart skit where a therapist simply advises his troubled patient to “Stop it!”




Joking aside, preemptive planning is a boon for stress patterns. The benefit of patterns is that you can see the common thread. Sometimes advance planning isn’t always possible, of course. That’s when a short-term fix isn’t the solution.


If you are experiencing stress patterns, and you’re recognizing them and can’t seem to be able to get around them (or even if you are able and want to do more than simply prevent them), then look to a longer-term strategy: dive deeper on them.


The best thing about patterns is that they give you plenty (too much!) to work with in reflection on them. I advise you working with a skilled clinician on this one. Dive deeper into the root cause(s) of the reaction: the associations, the underlying programming, the implicit memories, the misunderstandings or traumas down in there. Working with my own clients, some of the most profound healing experiences come from dialing down on the repeated feelings that come up in these patterns – these feelings take us back to sometimes surprising key moments and we are able to undo the negative programming there.


To sum up: when you recognize patterns, you’re half-way there! In the short term, plan ahead and take action to solve the problem before it arises. In the long term, dive deeper on those patterns to figure out the real root of the problem – addressing that will have profound, rippling effects throughout your life.


Don’t let stress rule you. Because when you do, you’re just hypnotizing yourself… negatively. (More on that on Wednesday!)

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