Maybe you feel like you’ve always been anxious – ever since you can remember. Maybe it’s a family trait – your grandmother was, your dad still is… so if your genes are stacked against you, well, it’s just your personality, isn’t it?
Yes! Also, no! Your personality is indeed shaped by the genes you inherit – in part. The other (even more significant) part is your environment, which comprises all of your circumstances – the people you spend time with, the places you inhabit, the things you do and the things that happen.
In 2007, an Australian study* had babies and their mums react to toys, including rubber snakes and spiders. Some of the mums were instructed to respond with fear and aversion, and others with enthusiasm and encouragement. At a later stage, the mums were to remain neutral – and you can guess what happened! Yes, the babies closely modelled their mums’ previous reactions to the spiders and snakes.
It’s a disorienting thought – who would you be if you’d been surrounded by different people? Who would you be if other things had happened? It’s also, I think, tremendously empowering: who *will* you be in the near future, if you consistently help your brain to feel calmer when it starts tensing up?
Here are two quick, one-minute strategies to do just that, whenever you need to, day by day.
1. Find your pulse. This one calms me down wonderfully. Put three fingers on your wrist and count the beats for a minute or so – or simply tune into the rhythm of your pulse.
2. Check in with yourself. Take a deep breath and breathe out slowly. Then notice any tight areas in your body (your shoulders? Your jaw? Your forehead?) and allow them to relax. Check your mind, too: are you feeling stressed and rushed? Are you focussed and in the flow, or zoned out on autopilot? Just give yourself permission to stop for a minute, and come back to yourself, to the here and now.
Remember, your brain will rewire itself according to how you use it – that’s where your power lies! Keep reclaiming that power, time and time again. Put those pesky genes in their place.