For those of you out there living and valuing a high-octane life, it’s time to rethink your attitude before you get yourself into trouble. So many of us learn that we need to be high energy, ‘up’, high fiving “go go go” all the time to be valid. Some of us believe it’s our job to light up a room or ‘bring the energy’, or that it’s important that others perceive us that way. Some of us value ourselves according to our ability to lift a mood. It might be a source of pride for you.
If this is the case, I encourage you to reassess and make some changes. If you don’t, you’re in a fast lane to trouble.
Our system is not wired to exist in a state of high autonomic nervous system (ANS) arousal. We need space and time for rest and repair. If we don’t allow ourselves this, our bodies and unconscious minds will demand balance. How? By forcing quiet. How? By causing illness or injury.
High ANS arousal isn’t only a state where we experience stressful, negative kinds of emotions like anxiety, agitation, frustration, and irritability. High ANS arousal also supports enthusiasm, excitement and so on. So high ANS activity isn’t all ‘bad’. It’s just that we don’t want to stay there all the time. If we do, our state can flip from positive emotions into a depleting state, like depression or anxiety, for example. What’s more, heart failure is directly linked to an upregulated sympathetic nervous system and is considered a global pandemic, affecting 26 million adults worldwide.
Chris, a client I just finished working with, had experienced accident after accident and injury after injury in his life. He’s magnetic and full of energy, life, and enthusiasm. He looks 10-15 years younger than his years. He’s highly motivated, loves life, and is highly successful in his career, yet, to his great frustration, since his 20’s has experienced a litany of injuries, some very serious, which had the capacity to ‘take him out’ and force rest upon him. He felt unable to operate at less than 400%.
He came to me because he recognized that it wasn’t normal to keep experiencing injury after injury as he had, and he wanted to break the cycle! He was so sick of recovering from one injury only to find himself experiencing another accident and resulting injury! He just wanted to get on with his life, stop getting injured and be able to let go of having to operate at 400% all the time.
Once we’d finished our first two sessions together Chris was “calm”. He said he’d been “phenomenal” over the previous week. His pain from past injuries, which had been reasonably constant though vastly improved with other therapies he was doing, was at 0/10. His DASS (Depression, Anxiety, Stress score) went from 12 to 2 in fourteen days.
Now, he no longer feels the need to operate at 400% all the time. He no longer feels it’s his job to light up a room or bring energy to a gathering. He may well continue to have that effect, but he feels no pressure to do so.
If you recognize yourself as a high achiever living a high-octane life, I invite you to do three things:
1. Question why you feel the need to live like that.
For example: how do you think others perceive that in you? Why is their perception important to you? How do you feel about yourself? What beliefs do you hold about being calm and at peace? What responsibility are you taking which may not be yours? Are you fearful of what might happen if you don’t live like that?
2. Put your full focus on the one thing you’re doing.
You don’t have to do anything more than just that one thing. You don’t have to think about the myriad tasks ahead of you, whilst you’re doing that one thing. To allow yourself that focus and intentionality, you may need to plan and put down your tasks on paper/screen. Fine. But keep bringing yourself to the single task at hand.
3. Find time to bring yourself to calm.
Calm your system. Recognise the importance of this. Some of you might be thinking: “Oh great – we’ll get out for a trail run and listen to a podcast at the same time! That’ll get me out into nature and calm.” NO! That’s not what’s meant here. I’m talking about states of peace here. For many of you, those states might be uncomfortable. Your ego may perceive them as boring. You may not have experienced a time without distractions and busy-ness for a long, long time. Are you afraid of being alone with your thoughts? Maybe you are. Nonetheless, do it. Your future self will thank you.
If you find a calm, relaxed state simply impossible, reach out for help. You’re stuck in a stress response. Living in a state of constant sympathetic nervous system activation is considered a dysfunction! Take it seriously. If you’re not fatigued yet, you will be. If your body’s coping now, it won’t continue to do so. Cracks will appear. Your body will force balance upon you and it might not be pretty. It’s only a matter of time.
Constant high-octane living comes at a cost. A high cost.
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