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How Do You Manage the Monster Inside?

25 February 2014

Allison read The Best Way to Defuse Your Stress by Peter Bregman on the HBR Blog Network and pondered the importance of the mind-body connection (including her childhood strategy of beating on the bed with a plastic bat).

Tags: allison read, balance, mindfulness, peter bregman

Peter Bregman is one of my favorite bloggers to follow. Last year I wrote about two of his posts, When the Truth Is Your Only Chance and the Three Qualities Every Leader Needs to Succeed on a Team. He brings authenticity, vulnerability, and candor to his work and this makes his management consulting and leadership expertise that much more useful to me.

Yesterday Bregman confessed, “Most of the time, I’m professional, focused, empathetic, thoughtful, and rational. But that takes effort and, periodically, I lose that control. I might write an inappropriately aggressive email. Or raise my voice at my kids when they don’t listen. Or lose my temper with a customer service rep on the phone who seems to be missing my point. It might look like I have an anger problem, but I don’t. I have a stress problem. I can be tightly wound. And, as a result, quick to anger.”

My guess is that you have sometimes had a strong emotional response that led to your doing or saying something you regretted. Last week I wrote about Christy Wampole’s op-ed, In Praise of Disregard. She gave good reasons for why we need to let some things go and also provided a three-step process for actually having a chance of releasing the negative feelings.

However, as you read Bregman’s post, I think you may find yourself agreeing that before you can follow Wampole’s advice, you may need to do something to get control of what’s going on in your body. I’m generally happier when I get control of my emotions through a variety of breathing, meditation, and other mindfulness tools. However, I’m like Bregman in that I sometimes need a bigger physical release before I can access those tools. Writing out my frustrations in my morning pages and working out almost every day (and sometimes twice a day if I’m really struggling) are essential first steps for me when I’m stressed. 

I don’t get as much relief from yelling or jumping up and down privately as Bregman seems to, but I admire that he knows what he needs to do to get back in control of his stress. There is a lot of debate about the ramifications of some of what Bregman recommends and you’ll see that in the comments on the HBR site as well as on his own site. One person mentions that it isn’t stress he’s managing, but that instead he’s dealing with fear. (Bregman hasn’t responded to the comment, but my guess is that he’d likely concede that point. Throughout his writing, he’s pretty candid about stress, fear, anxiety, and all the other stuff that goes on in our primal, limbic brains.)

My mother regularly made us go outside to play hard or exercise as a way to manage our energy as children. We were absolutely not allowed to yell at or hit each other. Ever. She even let us pound on the guest bed with a fat plastic red baseball bat or a skinny plastic yellow baseball bat (fondly called the ketchup and mustard bats in our family). We often laugh about a historic communal beating of the bed when my brother, Mama and I were so angry at Daddy for “making us” move to Maitland, FL when I was 10 years old. Given what we all do for a living now, we’ve had many opportunities to review that incident and wonder if it was the best way to handle things. Was Mama encouraging our fury, ganging up on Daddy with us, or helping us manage a storm of emotions in a healthy way? We’ve read since then that there is a concern that having an angry physical response can lead to more anger. We’re still not sure what’s best. (Mama forwarded Bregman’s post to me this morning with those questions and more.)

If you’ve read Mama’s book, Turn Your Face: How to Be Heard and Get What You Want Most of Time, then you know that I was a very energetic kid who had a history of temper tantrums and screaming matches under the age of five. Mama had the good sense to get to counseling and learn how to help me talk myself out of those big emotional meltdowns. Finding a way to manage my physical reactions was a big part of the equation, as well. Today, I don’t need to do everything Bregman recommends, but I’m glad I had the chance to learn as a little person how to manage the mind-body connection. As a grown up, whether I beat on the bed or have an intense workout, I know for sure that getting control of the stress in my body and having a calm disposition is 100% my responsibility and well within my control if I exert some discipline. For that lesson, I will be forever grateful to Mama and the different therapists who helped my family grow up together.

How do you manage your mind-body connection?


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