I was recently priviledged to give a workshop to a group of psychology students. The workshop was about stress and stress management. This included examining the physiological reponses referred to as the fight or flight response, and how this evolved to ensure the survival of our species. This response pattern primes us to deal with sudden possibly life threatening emergencies. And once a emergency was over the physilogical arousal could settle down again. But modern life stressors are most often not physical emergencies, but percieved threats of all kinds that the body still reacts to as though they were immediate threats to life. To deal with current stressors we need clear heads, not primed muscles. And the stressors keep coming!
So we talked about ways of dealing with stress and anxiety as they arise. How to deal with the fact that our evolution expressed throughour genes combines with life conditioning, especially that of our early years. Patterns of pysiological reaction with their attendant feelings and ways of perceiving get established and reinforced and affect us through life. We talked of ways these patterns can be brought to light and dealt with and changed. With practice we as individuals can change our stress responses and so better adapt to a world our evolution as a species is not catching up to.
What I did not get to in this workshop is something crucial: the application of all this beyond learning to adapt as individuals. Modern life seems to be becoming increasingly stressful. We hear of polarization, of conflicts around the globe, of the ravaging of the planet, of climate change, etc. How are enough people going to stay clear-headed and creative and, yes, calm enough to bring about real change? Actually, positive change is happening (but doesn’t get as much attention as the frightening things), but is it enough? Our children are still going through the conditioning that maintains the old types of patterns. I speak to anyone who may read this, including perhaps a few of those psychology students, some of whom may at some point be in a poistion to influence education systems directly or through advocacy.
There have been school programs developed here and there where young students learn coping skills, understanding of emotional reactions and healthy ways of dealing with them, of conflict resolution, etc. Students in such programs do better in school and in life. Emotionbal intelligence can be learned.* What could be more vital to our world right now than the rapid development of such programs and their integration into our educational systems? There is knowledge and there are methods now through which individuals can progress and actually transform. Now is the time to transform society by extending this knowledge in ways that young people can absorb, and giving them real training to use it. It is is already happening on a small scale, its not just pie-in-the-sky. But the scale must be expanded hugely.
*(See TEDX video «The Importance of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child»)