meditation-drawing-chalkboard_800Did you know that stress is a habit?

Have you ever arrived at work with no detail of how you got there? When you started from home on autopilot, you thought about if you have your keys, wallet and cell phone, but somewhere along the way, your brain moved onto more interesting topics, and the next thing you knew, you’d arrived. This is the essence of habits – once you start on a familiar series of actions, you stop thinking about them, and you are able to complete them without conscious thought or attention. This can be both a boon and a bane to us as it frees up our minds, but also makes it difficult to stop a habit once it’s started.  Stress works the same way.

A Habit of Mind

Stress is a habit of the mind that plays out through the body.   It keeps us in a loop of fear and frustration leading to fatigue and illness.  The more we are stressed the more we feed that loop and it becomes automatic.  What happens is our mind perceives a threat—anything that compromises our feeling of security including feeling overworked and fatigued.  Real or imagined, the nervous system receives the signal to sound the alarm. The brain and gut get all system ready and start manufacturing hormones to help the body stay in balance.  When this is repeated often, the nervous system sets up circuitry to operate before we are even aware of the physiological change.  This circuit maintains the energy currents that over time create a mental groove that becomes our new norm.  How to we get around this?  The solution, create a new habit, which creates new circuitry to override the old groove.  Let’s take a look at what that means…

Habits are a series of steps learned gradually and most of the time without conscious awareness Habit formation is a type of procedural learning in which the basal ganglia, a cluster of nuclei located in the forebrain between the cortex and the brainstem play a key role . The area of the basal ganglia that has been particularly associated with habit formation is called the striatum. This area receives the most input from the neo cortex and then connects the input data to other areas that support feeling good.  Stress works the same way, the way we think and perceive creates a pathway or a circuit that gets reinforced when we react to a specific cue that seems threatening to our well being.  So to break the stress cycle we need to create a new groove by changing our perception.

Makings of A New Groove

To do this requires four things:

  1. Become aware of the habit.
  2. Be willing to create a new habit.
  3. Choose a habit that supports positive outcomes.
  4. And…establish a routine practice.

A path of practice means that we walk a path.  It is not enough to know that you need to create a new habit, you must walk the path meaning, you must practice.  Ultimately one step at time puts you on the shore with a new view of your life.