Full text of researcher Heidi Hanna’s talk: How to channel your stress to help you succeed at TEDxSDSU conference.
Heidi Hanna – Keynote Speaker, Author, Health & Performance Consultant
Wow. I’m so grateful to be here with all of you today in my chosen hometown of San Diego, talking about my favorite subject: STRESS.
Now, I know that probably sounds a little bit crazy to you. Not the San Diego part, but the stress part, but it’s true. I actually love stress, but that was not always the case.
See, I grew up with an anxiety condition and I’ve had it since I can remember. It started when I was really young – triggering headaches and then stomach aches, and then quickly turned into panic attacks and actual fainting episodes.
I can still remember several different situations being at doctor’s appointments, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. And I would actually pass out at some point during my appointment.
And then a couple of days later they would call and give me the good news that there was nothing actually wrong with me.
Well, if you’ve ever had something wrong with you and then been given the good news that there’s nothing wrong with you, you know how stressful this can be.
So I figured if stress was my problem, I really didn’t have any choice, but to try to find some sort of cure. And I explored all of the angles, starting with psychology and the nutrition, exercise, physiology and neuroscience.
And no matter how much smarter I became about stress, I still really struggled to get it under control.
In fact, I found myself getting more and more frustrated because I would look at all of this great data and research talking about the benefits of stress and the upsides of stress.
And here I was with all of this great information and I couldn’t figure out how to tap into the benefits without feeling totally overwhelmed by the pressure.
So let me give you a personal example of how this actually shows up in my life.
I moved to San Diego and chose this spot in particular because I love being by the ocean. There’s something just really calming and soothing to me about being near the water. But ever since I was a young child, I have the craziest reaction every time I get just close enough to actually put my feet in the water.
So let me give you an idea of how this happens:
[Heidi Hanna plays the sound of sea waves}
Sounds of wave crashing and I see how beautiful it is, like happy and grateful and relaxed. And then, just as I get close enough to actually put my foot in the water, I start to hear these sounds:
[Plays horrifying sound]
Okay. There it is. This is not a joke. This actually happens to me every time I get close to going in the ocean.
By any chance, is there anyone else who’s ever had this experience before? Well, how about right now, as you hear those sounds, does it trigger any sort of reaction for you?
Well, this is my stress reaction. My fingers start to sweat a little bit and my heart starts to race and I feel like I can’t quite catch my breath. It’s a lot like every time I get ready to give a presentation or get on an airplane actually, but here’s my point:
We all experience stress in different ways for different reasons, but there’s one thing that each of us has in common. The majority of the time, the way that we react to stress is primal, being fueled by the lower-level functions of our highly-developed brain.
What I mean is we experienced a cue like music in this case, that triggers a reaction, well before we label it with any sort of conscious thoughts. And the human brain is designed in a very specific way to process patterns of energy and information in a specific hierarchy:
First sensing. And then feeling. And then thinking, in an effort to try to help us survive.
Ironically, not too long ago, I ended up watching a movie about Steven Spielberg. And they were talking about the movie Jaws and the fact that we’re horrified of the shark that we hardly ever actually see on screen.
The audio team was so talented. They were able to create this horrifying experience solely based on sound alone. And it turns out that many times what we can’t see is way more scary than what we can see.
Well, I feel like a lot of life is like that today. We end up picking up these non-conscious cues from our environment. Some of them obvious like media and technology and our workload, constantly overwhelming us.
But some of them really subtle. Like how busy we are and how we rush around all of the time and how we pass our stress off to one another. It’s like, we’re constantly sensing that we’re not safe and feeling like we don’t have enough time or energy or money to deal with all of the demands in our life.