You know the Grinch who Stole Christmas? Well, he and I have something in common. There's one thing we hate: it's the "noise, noise, noise, noise." We're having our roof replaced this week, which means, as of five minutes ago, the nail guns started. The noise will go on for hours. For a couple of days, probably. My plan is to leave and stay away as much as possible. I'm grateful that I can leave when I want, and that it will all be over in a couple of days, and that we will have a new, non-hail-damaged roof that won't leak in the bathroom any more. That makes the stress of this particular noise nothing more than a brief inconvenience, and it's all in the service of a good cause.
At least part of my problem with noise stems from a teensy-weensy case of hyper-vigilance that I developed over a number years as a result of lots of stressors that I couldn't escape. When you've lived in places with serious political unrest, and spent time trying to discern if the noises you're hearing will result in physical harm to you and your family, well, it takes some getting over. I've been out of those situations for a long time, and I've done a lot of work to get better. But I still don't like noise and I'm kind of OK with being a little Grinch-like in this one area. I'm not going to steal anybody's presents or anything, and I am going to the mall as soon as this post is done. I might even buy somebody a present. But this is beside the point.
Here is the point. From a brain chemistry perspective (and I'm going to put this in the kindergarten-level language that makes sense to me), the stress ate up all the happy messengers in my brain. The happy messengers (like serotonin and dopamine) act like kind of an emotional shock absorber in our brains. So when something stressful comes along, you get that jolt of adrenaline, but then the happy messengers are supposed to soothe us and calm us down once we realize we're not going to be killed by the exploding nail gun noise above our heads.
The problem I found with myself, and a lot of other people, is that we get used to the stress. We become like that proverbial frog in the pot of hot water. Apparently (and I haven't actually tried this, nor have I checked Snopes), if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump right out. But if you put the frog into cold water, and then gently heat the pot to a boil, the frog will sit right there until it's cooked. We do the same kind of thing: we adjust and adjust and adjust and adjust, until we're boiling away and wondering why we feel so bad.
The book that I have turned to again and again to help me deal with stress is Dr. Archibald Hart's The Anxiety Cure. He talks about medications and how they work, along with changes in thinking that make an impact. But his main point is this: change your life. Dial it down to a reasonable temperature. Learn how to relax, have fun, and even eat and sleep normally again. He has a great seven-week plan included in the book to help you do just that.
And now the roofers have moved directly above my head. I am going to manage my stress right out of this room.