Being adaptable involves recognizing opportunities to hone your skills. Case in point is the situation here in Florida at the Experiment in Human Captivity, coined by me as the ‘Willowbrook Lab’ of which I’ve written extensively. My training as a behavior analyst compels me to observe, track, collect data and document this remarkably unpleasant, unwanted experience living under forced reconstruction. The upshot is that every building in the brand new condominium community where 270-plus neighbors and I each bought a townhouse is literally being rebuilt around us.
There is nothing like months of unexpected intrusive construction noise to test adaptability and distress tolerance skills; never knowing when the construction crew will show up to bludgeon the building. These unexpected, unwanted intrusions make concentration and conversation difficult. Not to mention, exiting and re-entering the garage becomes an elaborate exercise in finding nails and removing debris. As it turns out the Universe is yet again presenting an opportunity to master today’s intrusive, unwanted construction chaos. Other days are peppered with people at the door, moving stuff around, dodging obstacles and generally attempting to cope with numerous daily barriers to the things that need to be accomplished.
The purpose of recounting this is not to vent but to use it as a teaching moment. What many people do not know is that environmental events literally affect your cells. Relentless exposure to chronically stressful stimuli is more than an unpleasant inconvenience–it shapes gene expression. According to the emerging field of Epigenetics, cells in a healthy environment are healthy whereas cells in an unhealthy environment get sick because information not only flows from cells but to cells.
According to the Mayo Clinic: “The body’s stress-response system is usually self-limiting. Once a perceived threat has passed, hormone levels return to normal. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular activities. But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on. The long-term activation of the stress-response system-and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones-can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, memory and concentration impairment.”
Here is where behavior change comes in… instead of resisting or otherwise stewing in stress hormones, today can be improved by putting on some headphones and dancing my way through. This is popularly known as ‘making lemonade out of lemons’ in order to improve the moment or derive a benefit from an unwanted event. It’s a choice involving what you actually have control over in a situation, then choosing to use that (anger, stress-adrenaline) energy to your advantage by applying it to something adaptive, thus finding a way to benefit.