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Games of Nerves We Play

Updated on September 26, 2018
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

Seeing Something "Wrong"---a Global Pastime
Seeing Something "Wrong"---a Global Pastime

A Surrender to Nerves

Life is filled with challenges and demands that are testing our ability to stay calm and do whatever needs to be done. Some of them may seem overwhelming, however, only until after it's all over, when we may ask ourselves: "What was the fuss all about anyway"?

Then again, it wouldn't even be so bad if we didn't make a habit out of it, turning every ordinary moment into a stressful one. It's this peculiar phenomenon in our emotional responding to life that prompted me to write this article.

I keep seeing it everywhere I look, and it's almost like a pandemic of a contagious poor stress management, with people oftentimes rationalizing by saying with a sigh of helplessness: "Well, we are only imperfect humans".

That is something that I am finding so strange, this surrender to the nerves and their whimsical monkey-business that's allowed to run our show---due to a mental laziness to do something about it.

Looking at the global affairs, one simply must come to the inescapable impression how the whole world is just catering to their nervous knee-jerk reactiveness, with brains taking the back seat---if not showing up late.

Oops! Too Heavy Load?
Oops! Too Heavy Load?

How Low Is Your Own "Plimsoll Line"?

An appropriate metaphor depicting our seeming inability to stay afloat in life situations would be one with the plimsoll line on a ship. It's that line on its hull indicating how much is safe for it to be immersed when loaded with cargo, so that it doesn't sink for being overloaded.

Borrowing the term, how much stress can we take before we start sinking? Like most variables in human nature this is different from person to person. The level of our personal plimsoll line depends on two conditions:

1) what represents a stress to us

2) how trigger-happy is our negative feedback mechanism which is warning us that "something is going wrong".

Life Feels like a Hazardous Ride
Life Feels like a Hazardous Ride

A Trigger-Happy Feedback Mechanism

Using another mechanical example, every airplane's feedback mechanism, according to pilots, is some 98% of the flight time indicating its being off the course. With help of computerized navigation airplanes correct themselves automatically, and those are mostly so minimal corrections which passengers can't detect by their sensitive stomach pits.

Similarly, when we drive a car, our hands are automatically making those small steering corrections. However, can you remember how exaggerated corrections you were making when you sat behind the wheel for the first time?

It was the tension which made your feedback mechanism oversensitive, while giving you a false alarm that "you were doing something wrong". Unlike planes and experienced drivers, being off the course you overreacted by going too far back and forth.

Well, that's what happens to the folks with a trigger-happy feedback mechanism--- to them, something is "wrong" all the time, and they carry that constant, now habitual feeling of a need to "fix" something.

A Moment to Cherish  -  Not to Dread
A Moment to Cherish - Not to Dread

When Wedding Bells Sound like Alarm Bells

As we interpret too many people and situations as "stressors", our negative feedback mechanism becomes unreliable, because it's bound to activate alarm bells even when we are not facing anything of an objectively disturbing nature.

That can even escalate to some comical extremes, one of the best examples probably being a groom or a bride passing out at the time of saying their vows. In that climax of all wedding excitement, not able to discriminate, their feedback mechanism is mistaking it for an "unbearable traumatic experience" and knocking them out unconscious.

This is actually a perfect example of how impersonal our nerves are in treating a whole variety of emotionally charged situations. If you happened to have a phobia of dogs, your nerves would equally overreact to a German Shepherd and a tiny Havanese which you can carry in your purse. Nerves can really play tricks on us, and I believe that many of us could readily attest to it.

Over-Reactive Nerves Make Us Over-Cautious
Over-Reactive Nerves Make Us Over-Cautious

Nerves Defining Our Stressors

Hoping that all cynics and comedians are restraining from their likely comment--- how in the world can "saying wedding vows" be interpreted as "dangerous"?---while that's exactly what some folks' overactive feedback mechanism may do.

All those long preparations for that day may be overwhelming making their nerves literally exhausted, and it doesn't matter one bit that it's supposed to be about one of the happiest days in their life.

The significant point here is that our overworked nerves will start defining stressors for us, and no matter what we consciously may perceive as innocent, our nerves may see as "wrong" and make us act accordingly. Of course, for as long as we are not doing anything to change that knee-jerk reactiveness to life.

So many "Good Causes" in this World
So many "Good Causes" in this World

Fussing Is a Global Trend

We are not talking here about any deep-seated possible causes for nervous sensitivity, but something that masses of people are going through---simply for neglecting their stress management.

So we fuss, and fuss, and then take it as our "normal" behavior, since just about everyone else is the same. People may actually see you as an oddball if you don't share this common trait which makes everybody feel "closer" to one another, while providing an ever ready theme for conversation.

From the elevator bitching about weather to coffee break complaints about bosses, to just about anything imaginable, of course, not to forget politics---we are masters of detecting something "wrong", not realizing that we got ourselves wired by our negative feedback mechanism to seek those themes.

Try to say that "life is good", and watch those horrified and accusing looks piercing you for "spoiling the spirit of the conversation".

How about Something Different?
How about Something Different?

Any Solution for That?

So, are we really at a mercy of our nerves and their negative feedback oversensitivity? Of course not, and the solution starts the very moment when we realize what we are doing to ourselves, to our health, and to our capacity for experiencing happiness.

You see, without that realization we can spend the rest of our lives taking it as a simple sign of our "being imperfect humans", sticking to that as an excuse. Like a doctor can't start a treatment without a diagnosis, we can't start changing before we admit to ourselves that our acquired model of functioning is not serving our best interests.

After all, it's all just about breaking a habit and so re-training our feedback mechanism to start registering life as good.

General Right Direction Is all that Matters
General Right Direction Is all that Matters

As Long as We Are Heading in Right Direction

For starters, we could use that metaphor mentioned at the beginning about making those constant steering corrections. As we transfer the driving situation to general living situations, it's of a big importance to notice how our car is going in a "general right" direction despite all those little zig-zags, and so is probably our day, despite this or that unfavorable detail in the course of our daily activities.

When we are able to see that bigger picture and unglue our emotions from little crappy details, we are re-training our feedback mechanism to start taking life "less seriously". It's also helpful what late Muhammad Ali used to say: "It's not how many times you fall that matters---but how many times you get up from the floor".

That confidence that's telling us that we'll keep going no matter what---will eradicate the significance from all those small deviations from our course.

Could Life Become a Jolly Adventure?
Could Life Become a Jolly Adventure?

An Addiction to Be Broken

Believe it or not, but the hardest part of calming down our overactive negative feedback is that we don't really want to do it. Why? Because we got addicted to it, and it seems like life would not be complete with nothing pissing us off.

The similar obstacle you may see in an attempt to quit smoking. It's not that we can't, but we don't want to, scared that skies will crush on us without sucking on the silly thing. Likewise, you are expected to sacrifice all that bitching about politicians "just for " some peace of mind? Wouldn't the life be boring without something to complain about?

After all, we got so nicely used to fussing, we got all the right words, and it so nicely fits into our life-style and mind-style. Well, peace of mind may represent something scary because it's unfamiliar---but trust me or not, life starts tasting so sweet without fussing.

Try it---you'll like it.

© 2015 Vladimir Karas

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