By Deborah Rozman
If you think you're constantly getting barraged with other people's drama, consider this: Most drama in people's lives is internal. If we had a microphone that could record our thoughts or feelings, we'd be astonished by how much emotional upheaval we're adding to both the big and little stresses in our lives.
For example, your husband is late for dinner. You start worrying and building possible terrible scenarios in your mind: he was in a car accident... he was mugged... he is two-timing you. Then he arrives home apologetic for being late and that he couldn't call you because his phone ran out of battery. Whew. Then you have to recover from all that story you created in your head, and the resulting energy drain that left you exhausted.
It's a habit that's so common -- we learn it from our parents and our friends. Teenagers thrive on inner drama; it's no wonder so many struggle emotionally to learn in school. Excessive drama causes stress, anxiety, anger and blame, draining our energy and, if chronic, possibly damaging our health and relationships.
Stressful negative emotions put our hearts and brains out of sync. They trigger our sympathetic nervous systems to go into survival mode, increasing cortisol and adrenaline. They shut down our higher cortical functions like reasoning, problem-solving, intuition, creativity, and heart connection so we can't think clearly or be present for others.
When we're mentally over-stimulated from drama, it's easy to take things personally and just react instead of respond. An incident may or may not be real, but left to its own devices, it gains momentum. The mind starts to feed on it. We build a story in our heads and get worked up about it. Our body doesn't care if it's justified or not -- it still reacts, and we pay the price.
When we constantly spin thoughts of blame, anger and "doom and gloom" projections about the future, it blinds our intuitive discernment, which we need to find the most effective ways to navigate through challenges.
Our relationships also take a hit from our drama. In a conversation, we may be missing the boat on the other person's intent. Or we get convinced that what we think about a situation is the whole picture, disregarding another's perspective. And we can't access the appropriate response to a loved one when we're in drama mode.
The human system is designed to get the most clarity when our heart rhythm is sending coherent and synchronizing signals to our brain. This allows us to have access to the wisdom of our experience. When we're in a drama state, that possibility gets shut off. Our heart rhythm sends incoherent and desynchronizing signals instead. What we need to do as early as possible in the situation is realize that we've been down this road before. I say to myself, "If I let myself continue to be angry, I'll end up with a headache or say something I regret. I would rather have my deepest intelligence guiding me." When we're calm, centered and coherent, maintaining a neutral or positive attitude, we can access this deeper intelligence.
Even when the drama going on around you is real, you'll be more effective if you can stay neutral. HeartMath trains a lot of first responders and military for situational readiness so they can have more intelligence available to them in a crisis situation.
Last week, I heard there could be a deadline missed on a project that would affect other parts of our company; some people were getting worried and starting to blame each other. I could feel myself getting pulled into the drama, so I pulled back. I went to a place of calm, used the tools, got some clarity, and figured out what would be the best response. It helps to say "STOP" to your brain, and "I'm better than this." Even with lots of practice and working in this field, I have to do that at times. I see stories start to spin on my inner screen. I can feel the urge to blame and go down that track and the surge of emotions that feed it. It's worth it to learn to pause that reaction as soon as possible.
Here are some tools I like that you can use to decrease the drama in your life and handle what remains more effectively:
- Start by practicing reducing the drama in the content you share with others. When we genuinely share feelings from the heart with others, this reduces the tendency to keep amplifying and repeating the downside of situations -- and increases the tendency to strengthen and encourage sober support and solutions. Naturally, there will be some drama while expressing our feelings to others. But when excessive drama continues, it blocks solutions.
(Download HeartMath's free De-Stress Kit for more ideas.)
The other day, I was driving in a lot of traffic. There was a slow driver in front of me and a road rager honking behind me. I was so grateful I had some great tools that could help me manage a situation like that calmly. Sure, you get better with practice, but you will benefit from the very first use of these tools. And each time you use them, it will build your confidence as you decrease drama and experience new, healthier responses to stress.
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Deborah Rozman, Ph.D., is president and CEO of HeartMath LLC, located in Boulder Creek, California. HeartMath provides scientifically-validated and market-validated tools and technologies that activate the intelligence and power of the heart to dramatically reduce stress while empowering health, performance and behavioral change in individuals and organizations. HeartMath's award winning emWave® technologies monitor and provide real time feedback on heart rhythm (HRV) coherence levels, an important indicator of mental and emotional state. HeartMath also offers training and certification programs for organizations, health professionals and coaches, and a self-paced online personal development program called HeartMastery for individuals.
Dr. Rozman has been a psychologist in research and practice, entrepreneur and business executive for over 30 years. She was founding executive director of the Institute of HeartMath, and now serves on the Institute's Scientific Advisory Board and Global Coherence Initiative Steering Committee. She is co-author with HeartMath founder Doc Childre of the Transforming series of books (New Harbinger Publications): Transforming Anger, Transforming Stress, Transforming Anxiety and Transforming Depression. She is a key spokesperson on heart intelligence and the role of the heart in stress management, performance and wellness.