Adrenaline creates an excellent medium for self-feeding loops. For example, the natural anxiety about meeting someone of the opposite sex can become exaggerated by your extra fear, so your nervousness shows. Ponder the possibility that your nervousness will show and that itself can make you feel nervous, and then your fear of appearing nervous can become a very real and uncomfortable reality. The fear that your nervousness will show simply increases your adrenaline output, which makes your fear even more likely to come true, which makes you even more worried your nervousness will show. And so on. It's a self-feeding loop.
But within your own body and mind is not the only place self-feeding loops can thrive. They can also develop in relationships. Especially close relationships.
Consider Sue and Pete. Sue has strongly reacting adrenal glands. Pete pulled a muscle yesterday and isn't in a good mood this morning. He's feeling grumpy and a little depressed. His sore muscle is making him feel old. Sue doesn't know this, so when Pete gets out of bed slowly, Sue teases him, "You're moving a little slowly this morning, aren't you old man?"
Sue's comment hits Pete just the wrong way and he snaps back, "You're getting old as fast as I am." The venom with which he says this startles Sue, and her adrenal glands immediately pump two gallons of heart-racing rocket fuel into her bloodstream. In the blink of an eye, she goes from a little hurt to totally pissed off. After a certain level of physiological arousal, a person becomes unreasonable. Sue, very angry now, is unreasonable and makes accusations and threats she would never make in her right mind.
Pete responds in kind because all of Sue's unreasonableness has really started ticking him off too. They may argue for an hour. Both of them may spend the whole day stewing in their own stress hormones — literally soaking in stress chemicals all day — making them feel distressed and uncomfortable, making them less effective at their work, and doing harm to their health.
Consider the same opening scenario with one difference: Sue has meditated every day for the last two weeks, once a day for twenty minutes. She has also made an effort to remind herself to take a deep, slow breath whenever she feels stressed.
When Pete snaps at her in response to her joke, she immediately notices her body's reaction. Even though she has been meditating, her adrenal glands still respond, just not as intensely. The feeling of stress reminds her to take a deep breath. With that small difference, her response is a little different than it was in the first scenario. She has a second to think. Her system doesn't overload her. She says, "What's the matter, honey?"
Can you see what a different scene will play out from that? It will be much less stressful for both of them. It will save both of them some needless suffering. It will save them both some time. Remember, they fought for an hour.
When you don't feel like meditating, when your motivation isn't very high, when you don't feel like relaxing your tensions, or when you feel like drinking coffee, and your motivation to make your own life better lags, think of your spouse. You can lower your spouse's stress level by lowering your own. Making your own system less reactive prevents those nasty self-feeding loops from happening in your relationships. It is a great gift you can give to someone you love.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.