One of the greatest gifts I ever gave my brain unfolded as a result of me paying attention to the signals my body was giving me. At age 21, I virtually gave away my stake in a very successful hardware manufacturing business just to be free of it; and in it’s place I put on a carpenter’s tool belt. Without me really knowing anything about neurophysiology, that decision unwittingly accomplished a number of beneficial things for my body and brain.
The first thing selling my stake in the business did was get me out from under the enormous stress of being in business for myself. I can still feel the “incredible lightness of being” in my body once I was no longer under the crushing burden of business-running. Why? Because I freed myself from a process that was literally damaging my brain – acute and chronic stress in large amounts actually releases enzymes that sever the adherence proteins keeping our brain cells connected. Excessive stress literally disconnects the synapses in our neural network. Life is generally less appealing when our brain is unraveling its network fibers at the seams. But chronic stress does significant additional damage as well, as I’ll explain below.
But first: here’s the primary, fundamental, bottom-line reason why people hate their jobs. It actually has little to do with what their actual job duties are or how much of an ass their bosses are (could they be worse than this guy?) – People hate their jobs because they don’t like the way their brains and bodies feel while they’re at work.
Busting Stress as a Clandestine Operative
Many people typically have little ability to accurately identify their place along this Stress Curve at any point during any day.
We also have little awareness of the toll that high levels of stress hormones take upon the brain and body. Cambridge computational neurobiologist Daniel Wolpert reminds us: Brains are organized and designed first and foremost for one primary purpose: moving the body. It’s one of the fundamental ways the brain works to regulate stress hormones. I found that out only after changing my work environment so that I would be required to move my body vigorously every day for the next 25 years! In the process I happily, but nesciently (I didn’t know what I didn’t know), changed my stress profile.
Stress kills. But long before it does, it makes our life miserable. Only it does it in ways that rarely let us easily connect the dots. Excessive levels of adrenaline and cortisol and other glucocorticoids not only make us feel crappy, they compromise immune function, throw blood sugars out of whack and detrimentally affect our Attentional Intelligence; they also reduce the growth of new neurons and the connections they make in the brain. They stunt our neurobiological growth (and by association, every other kind of growth).
One reason people don’t like the way their brains and bodies feel at work is because they have never learned effective ways to prevent their adrenal glands from taking over and running the show. Here’s a pointer to a list of clues that will let you know when that’s actually going on in your life. Learning to recognize when your adrenals are in charge and you’re not is … Step One.
Step Two is developing Adrenal Management Practices (AMPs) that are not only effective and work for you, but that fit you so well that you actually look forward to doing them. So, for example, everyone knows that sitting in meditation is a wonderful AMP.
I was formally introduced to sitting meditation in 1973, but it took me ten years of trying to finally figure out that this was not a good practice for me – traumatic memories would surface while I was sitting and my adrenals would go crazy. Sitting immobilized while your adrenals flood your brain and body with stress hormones is believed to be one of the prime contributors to PTSD. So, for me and my adrenals, something else was needed.
Click on The Tree of Contemplative Practices on the right and you’ll see a whole host of possibilities that can help in the effective management of your adrenal glands.
There are untold other ways to effectively manage stress at work as well. But each of us has to experiment and find out A. What might actually work for you; and B. What actually works that you can actually DO. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, for example, has been shown to be greatly effective in reducing stress levels (among other things). But, as I mentioned above, I happen to be someone with a Wild Mind who finds it almost impossible to sit still for very long. So … MBSR doesn’t work for me. What works much better for me is contemplative walks in nature, along with several other practices from the tree.
What experimental, self-designed practices might work well for you such that you can begin to actually appreciate and enjoy how your brain and body feel at work?