In our hyperconnected world, it’s sooo easy to feel overwhelmed by everything going on around us. Traffic jams, work deadlines, family obligations, disturbing news headlines – all of that piles up in our mind and can leave us feeling frustrated, anxious, and emotionally drained.
Our brains are hardwired to react to perceived threats with an automatic response triggered by the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers our emotional urge to fight, freeze or run! This protective mechanism served us well when our ancestors had to contend with literal tigers and other physical dangers. But today’s threats tend to be more abstract and mental in nature. I call them our “modern tigers.”
Trapped in a nasty traffic jam and late for work? The amygdala sees a threat and sounds the alarm, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, chronic activation of the stress response takes a toll on our bodies and minds, increasing the risks for inflammation, high blood pressure, depression, and more. This reaction is not necessarily wrong or bad – it’s simply outdated programming. Our brains and bodies haven’t quite caught up to the realities of modern life and we feel the tiger at our heels.
If we want to manage the modern stressors in our lives, the key is to learn to override the amygdala’s knee-jerk reactions so we can respond thoughtfully instead of reflexively. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices can strengthen the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles decision making, regulation of emotions, and executive functioning.
This neural pathway allows us to notice our emotions, pause, and choose how to respond, rather than being hijacked by them. As we build mindfulness, we also build self-awareness and emotional intelligence, giving us greater control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Here are a few things you can do to manage your modern tigers and avoid unnecessary stress:
- Name it. When you notice you’re feeling stressed, name the emotion and how it affects your body. This helps calm amygdala reactivity.
- Slip a mindful pause between the stressor and your response. Take a breath to prevent thoughtless responses you may regret later.
- Be curious. Instead of seeing stressors as threats ask yourself, “what is this situation trying to show me or teach me?” Take the opportunity to learn more and you may see the tiger fade away.
- Reframe emotions as data. Don’t reject difficult emotions as “bad” or threats. See them as important data points highlighting what matters to you. Sit with them before deciding how to respond.
- Use emotional intelligence to express your feelings assertively but calmly, without blaming or shaming others. Managing relationships mindfully can prevent frustrations from spiraling.
- Unplug consciously. Be more deliberate about when and how you engage with potentially stressful media inputs. Set boundaries around news consumption and social media.
- Take care of you. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make self-care like sleep, healthy eating, exercise, and rest a priority so you have energy to deal with stressors skillfully.
The modern tigers in our lives aren’t going extinct anytime soon. But by approaching them with mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and self-compassion, we can prevent chronic stress from wreaking havoc on our lives. With practice, our thoughts and emotions become less overwhelming, and everyday stressors feel far more manageable. By understanding and mastering our inner worlds, we’re able to navigate the outer world of modern stress with wisdom, clarity, and ease.
Need help taming those tigers?
If you feel overwhelmed by the modern tigers in your own life, know that you don’t have to face them alone. As a mindfulness coach, I offer a free introductory call to help you assess your current stress levels and if my science-backed stress reduction techniques are a good fit for your needs. My approach combines mindfulness training with emotional intelligence development and self-compassion practices to empower you to respond skillfully to daily stressors, rather than reacting on autopilot.
You deserve to feel peaceful and in control, even when life feels frenzied. Reach out today to discuss your unique situation and how mindfulness could help transform your relationship with stress.