Hello, friends! I am so glad you’re here with me today. I hope you’re feeling well and enjoying something today (cup of tea, a fuzzy companion nearby, sunshine or a favorite movie) to give yourself some comfort. I’m honored to work with a great variety of people facing different lives with different strengths but there are some very common themes. Many of my clients deal with a lot of over-thinking, ruminating (thinking about the same thing over and over and over) and self-doubt.
Ya’ll I have a confession to make. I watch a lot of animal videos. If it’s on Netflix and has animals as a theme, I’ve probably seen it. By the way, Free Willy is on Netflix right now. You’re welcome. Anyways, when I watch animals I often get pretty envious. I watched a video where children shared what animal they’d want to be (adorable, I know) and one little girl was saying that if she were a barnyard animal, she’d get annoyed by all the flies buzzing around. But the animal flicked it’s ear as many times as necessary. I may be humanizing these animals, but I don’t believe that sheep are too dumb to move away from the flies, I believe they don’t get annoyed because they don’t fantasize about ideal situations. They just deal with reality as it is and don’t expend energy wishing. Boy, I wish sometimes that I were that mindful. How much energy do we use wishing things were different?
They do things differently
I have, on occasion, asked my cats if they want to take my place when I’m leaving the house to go do annoying human things. How many of the things that stress us out are, really, kind of unnecessary? We have a lot of the same basic needs as animals: shelter, food, community. But animals do somethings differently. When a fox needs shelter, it puts 100% of its energy into finding shelter. It does not use 60% to find shelter and 40% to worry about what will happen if it doesn’t.
Zebras have a trick
There’s a fantastic book called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers” and it’s really about how animals (human beings included) are not meant for chronic stress that we often undergo.
So, that’s all great, right? Like, “thanks, Kayla. I’m glad Zebras don’t have anxiety but how does that help me?”. I hear you. We can’t just shut off the part of our brain that tries to protect us by worrying. But we can gently remind ourselves to gather some perspective. I’m not going to lie, I often ask myself “Is this likely to kill (or seriously injure) me?”. Because if not, I’m trying a little too desperately to avoid discomfort even though it’s a natural part of the living experience.
What can I do?
Can you aim to remind yourself that things like traffic are just your version of having flies buzz around? Sure, you can change lanes 8 times in 5 minutes to try to escape the discomfort but will it really help? I mean, maybe you’re different than I am but all that happens if I do that is I pick the slowest lane 8 times. It’s amazing, truly. I like to think it’s the universe telling me I need to take a breath and have some practice with patience. If I’m on my A-game, I laugh because it’s silly to be that stressed out. If I’m in a bad place emotionally, I yell. I’m not perfect. But I am constantly striving to laugh more.
Leave reminders for yourself. I had a post-it note stuck to my desk in my last job as a case manager that just said “be gentle with yourself”. I was in fight or flight a lot wondering if I was good enough. Long story short, when expectations are well above what you can achieve, it’s hard not to live in fight-or-flight. You have to learn how to care less by separating your worth from meeting others’ expectations. But that’s another story for another time. I’ve also written in a lot of places the phrase “Is this worth my peace?”. I know peace. I’ve felt it. If I’m at my absolute baseline, living in the sunshine and not over-thinking whether or not I’m good enough or happy enough, I feel peace. So is traffic or a fly really worth disrupting that?
The little things
These are small examples but how you handle the little things matters because those little habits add up over the years. It also sometimes works for big things. I’m not going to pretend that poverty and financial stress can be fixed with a change in perspective (it would be awfully privileged to assume that poor people just aren’t trying hard enough to stay positive). But can we try to remove the stress about the stress? The author of “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers” calls this psychological stress. It’s stress that comes solely from thinking about things. Be stressed at work but worrying about it at night doesn’t make you more effective, it gives you the negative consequences of having your fight-or-flight system online for too long.
Don’t let stress run in the background
I’m not saying there’s an easy fix. What I’m saying is that it’s worth it to strive to put 100% of your stress into the section of time when you’re actually in danger, rather than letting stress run in the background when you’re thinking about the danger. Take a breath. Remind yourself that if you can eat and have a place to sleep, you’re not dying and that HUGE stress response (the same one that Zebras use to get away from a lion chasing them) isn’t necessary. You can practice thought-stopping (picture a big red stop-sign flashing when your brain starts to stress over something you aren’t doing or don’t need to decide on right now).
I hope this helps, friend. Aspire to be a Zebra and I’ll see you next time?
Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services if you want to work on turning off stress in the background and recharging yourself.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.