Walk like an Ethiopian
There wasn’t enough time.
One of the biggest stressors for me is when I feel I am being prevented from getting something done that HAS to get done. And last night, I was STRESSED. I couldn’t get to everything: writing and bills and work and hanging out with Stacy, and all that was preventing me from taking the time to find a car to buy that had enough luggage room for an upcoming, medium-distance trip.
The more I thought about it the more frustrated I got, and the more frustrated I got, the tighter the jam seemed to be. I just could not see a solution.
I didn’t want to mention all this to Stacy, though, because I didn’t want her to think I was blaming her and our time together for my problem. And I didn’t want to trouble her. And, in truth, I was grumpy, and when I’m grumpy I don’t want to hear from someone else why I shouldn’t be grumpy.
I knew that, in a healthy relationship, you share these things and lean on each other. And as frustrated I as was, I know we have a healthy relationship. So, grumpy or not, I decided to mention my frustration.
“Don’t worry about the car,” Stacy responded. “We don’t want to rush into buying a car - maybe the wrong car - just because we have a trip coming up. If we don’t have the car by then, we’ll just rent one.”
In the five seconds it took Stacy to say those words, the weight on my shoulders evaporated. The weight didn’t “lift” - it went away way quicker than that. It just disappeared.
Two lessons for me:
- Evolution equipped us with the tendency to go straight to “fight or flight” when we are super-stressed.
Back in caveman times, when a saber-toothed tiger leapt out of the bushes, there was no paralysis by analysis, no screwing around, spit-balling options. It was RUN or FIGHT. Other potential solutions disappeared from the caveman’s head, because those thoughts were just distractions, delaying him from taking the immediate action that might save his life. The caveman who took off running? He became our ancestor. The caveman who brainstormed alternatives in that moment? He became lunch.
Stress-induced tunnel vision was a great behavioral asset back then; now, however, except in rare cases, all it does is inhibit our creativity when we need it most. The more stressed we become over a problem, the less capable we are of solving it.
The answer: don’t get stressed over problems that are not life-threatening. Easier said than done. Mindfulness exercises can help. But sometimes that stress response will not be denied. In that case...
- Tell someone. Ask for help from someone you trust (or should trust). The other person is not in fight or flight mode (unless my grumpiness has understadably put her there). She can see clearly the alternative that your stress is masking from you.
Not to mention: aren't we a team? Isn't that what friends, spouses, partners, and familiy members are there for? Isn't why we are there for them?
Humans evolved in tribes. We are not lone wolves. Wolves are lone wolves. We are people, and people are tribe animals - often for worse, but also often for better. The cavemen who decided to stick together were the ones who survived and produced us, and the cavemen who went it alone... you won't find them in Ancestor.com.
There's an old possibly-Ethiopian proverb: "If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, go with others. And if you want to take a trip but your car doesn't have enough luggage room, rent one."