Monday, March 31, 2008

Twist and Shout

Like many animals, rats put in new situations run the perimeter, presumably learning about their new environment. In fact, according to Esther M. Sternberg in The Balance Within, if you placed electrodes in their brains to map out the cells that are active during this exploration, you'd see that they matched the shape of the new environment perfectly. If they are able to learn, they learn the environment and their anxiety at the newness wears off.

Extrapolating wildly from this, you might wonder how a person, with all these pictures of their life in their head, complete with dead ends and diabolically treacherous twists and turns, ever breaks out of their maze. I'm fascinated by the people who are able to do so, and equally by those that are not.

According to Sternberg, if you're a low-stress-hormone Lewis rat, you'll explore your environment vigorously, presumably open to change. If you're a high-stress-hormone Fischer rat, you'll cringe in the corner, presumably, not so open to change. No worries; even the Fischer rat eventually learns the new environment, it just seems a lot more fraught with anxiety, if I may anthropomorphize for a moment.

Back to us, how can we adapt? Again, from the rats, it seems that once the new environment becomes more familiar, they're more comfortable.

So taking that very basic observation, one useful self-statement might be to assure oneself that it'll be okay, you'll get used to it. Whatever "it" is. The new job, the new city, the divorce, the death.

Now I'm going out on a limb to say that I'd have to guess having something familiar in a new environment would also allay some anxiety. You know how it feels when you move and unpack your stuff. It's a comfort to see the stuff, whether it's nice and almost-new or crummy and ready for the Salvation Army.

Sternberg goes on to talk about how relationships can also serve as buffers for the stress of change. Mind you, given the link between chronic stress and impaired immune function, this is all pretty critical. So we need change, we all experience lots of change, but too much prolonged change can make us sick. Like I said, life presents diabolically treacherous twists and turns. But also intriguingly engaging twists and turns.

So my recommendations: use positive self-statements (e.g., this is all going to work out), break out some comfortable objects (and light those candles, or whatever makes you feel good), rely on friends and other significants, and, when it comes to the treacherous twists and turns, put on some music and shake it up baby.

You know, Twist and Shout (The Beatles).

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