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How to Deal with Stress in 90 Seconds

By John Millen

As we finish the first week of 2020, the holidays might seem a distant memory as you charge into work in this new decade.

With work comes stress: Deadlines. Demands. Disruption. Each time a stressful event occurs, we can feel overwhelmed as we relive the events that triggered us. 
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Research tells us that we have the ability to break the cycle of stress.

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroanatomist, at 37 had a massive stroke, losing language, movement and her relationship with reality. She eventually healed herself and used her observations to inform her work as a brain scientist. 

Dr. Taylor gave a fascinating TED Talk in 2008 about her experiences. If you’re squeamish be prepared for her holding a human brain during her talk.

She also wrote a book with more detail: My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. In it, she explains how we physically process our emotional reactions to events. She calls it the 90 Second Rule:

When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop. 

Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body takes less than 90 seconds.

This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. 

After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.

This is a valuable insight. If our bodies are capable of processing the emotional reaction in 90 seconds, we are the ones who continue to ruminate on the event, instead of processing it to resolution, or letting it go.

This is the key: none of us has control over the events we face; the only thing we can control is our response to those events.

If you’d like more specific tips on controlling your mindset under duress, here’s what I wrote in 2017, “How to Stay Calm Under Stress.”

When you face a stressful event this week, instead of reacting emotionally try to be an observer of your body for 90 seconds –– feel the emotions, the hormonal rush. Then experience your body processing these chemicals to relief.

At that point, your body has done its job. The next move is up to you.

P.S. –– Just visit my contact page to share your thoughts and stories with me directly. If you know someone who could benefit from these tips, please share with the buttons below.

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