How much stress we experience largely depends on our behaviour in automatic pilot. Automatic pilot, means when we are living out our life’s in a mechanical kind of way, not fully aware of experiences of what we are doing nor weather or not the stress reaction is triggered. Stress has a tendency of triggering a reaction when the mind recognises something as a threat to our physical wellbeing or to our sense of self. If this stress leads you to feel particularly attacked or emotionally provoked, then the mind and body normally undergoes an automatic alarm reaction.
Over time these alarm reactions can develop into automatic reactions to a stressor (real or imagined) normally activated from subconscious areas of the mind. When these reactions are triggered out of unawareness and in automatic pilot, they largely shape how stressed we may end up feeling, normally intensifying and worsening stress and potentially complicating what might have initially been a simple problem.
Activation by automatic reaction to stressors can turn what might be simple problems or annoyances into bigger, harder to handle issues. This can further heighten and aggravate stress, complicating future responses to other simple problems and creating a spiral effect. As such, automatic reactivity impacts on our overall perception. It stops us from being able to resourcefully problem solve as well as affecting our ability to efficiently communicate and ultimately obstructing peace of mind. Constant stress reactivity can, in itself, create more stress and vulnerability to being triggered by others stressors in the future. In the long term, posing a risk to physical and psychological health.
Stepping out of automatic pilot is more than just seeing that this is my life, right here unfolding before me second by second, is it also the exploration of How do I relate to my life as I live it? Does my life “happen” automatically? Am I a total stuck/trapped by my situations or my commitments, by illness or by my past? Do I react or respond to life? Am I triggered or incited when things happen? Do I have choices? Do I have options?
Much of automatization is a habit of categorizing and judging our experience, which so easily take over our minds and overshadow our experiences. Cultivating awareness of these automatic judgements is essential to be able to uncover our own prejudices and fears, to be free from their oppression and to find more useful way of managing the stress.
Just by bringing awareness to what is happening during a stressful situation, you transform the situation dramatically. By way of being fully present as the stressful event is unfolding you are conscious and not on automatic pilot. Even before you do anything, you are actually altering the entire situation, just by the simple act of raising your level of awareness.
Directing awareness in this way happens in an instant and is the deciding factor in if you take the route of the “Stress Reaction” or you can steer your way to the “Stress Response” route, here you have a choice. As you develop mindfulness skills you no longer have to be led by automatic reactions every time one of your buttons is pushed. This mindful recognition can diminish the control and power that the stress reaction has over you, making a significant difference in the effect of a stressful event and ultimately how stressed you feel.