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Thriving under stress: is it possible?

The guilt, the blame, the shame, the failure and the self-sabotage related to the stress of failure can affect anybody! It is a never-ending roller coaster of success followed by inevitable failure. ... Lucy Shaw – a life and business success coach, author, certified firewalker and former president and CEO of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis – writes a weekly column for the Tri-State Defender. Expecting an outside-the-norm perspective on stress, Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku asked for a sketch of her viewpoints on stress and how it influences personal and professional success, health and happiness.

 Lucy Shaw

In the Memphis community, unequal health outcomes – relative to race – is a huge and costly factor in closing the gap between social and economic measurements. Why?

Fifty percent of the Memphis population is African-American, with the rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, prostate cancer, HIV and anemia disproportionately high…and this is the “short list.”

There are many ongoing initiatives designed to make a dent in these statistics. Still, the rates have changed little since my time as president and CEO of The Med. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of money, people, cooperation, patience and effort to effect the needed changes on both sides of the street: the caregiver side and the care recipient side.

These same people with all this sickness are also quite often dealt the extra blow of being accused of not participating in their own solutions, not being compliant with treatment plans, not showing up for appointments, and not caring about their own health. When they show up for health services, the expectations of some health professionals for a positive outcome are influenced by what the statistics and experience has shown them. This is where the opportunity for change rests!

The name of my company is HeartWorks 4U. I created this name over 10 years ago and for a very good reason. When we work with human capital (people), it is indeed a work from the “heart to the heart.” Unless we are willing to approach the healing of a community from the heart, our success can be limited. When dealing with the heart, things are quite often not what they seem.

In the book, “Change or Die,” Alan Deutschman says that the scientific odds are 9 to 1 against force, fear or fact causing a person to change, even in the face of death! In other words, only 1 in 9 persons will change because they are presented with a crisis that carries the potential to kill them, whether it is a life of crime, a heart attack or the threat of losing their job!

So here is where my take on stress enters the picture. Imagine this:

You are 20-30 pounds overweight, diagnosed with diabetes and have impending kidney failure, but you cannot lose the weight, stay on the diet, exercise, take the medicine, attend the appointment or whatever you have been told to do. You just might not be poor and you might have insurance. You are just downright “non-compliant.” No matter how hard you try, you can’t cooperate and help save your own life.

The guilt, the blame, the shame, the failure and the self-sabotage related to the stress of failure can affect anybody! It is a never-ending roller coaster of success followed by inevitable failure. You don’t get it; the doctor doesn’t get it; your best friend doesn’t get it. You just know that you feel trapped – even when things are going well!

My story

I grew up in Memphis, walking the circuit between Beale and Third streets, where my parents had a transient hotel, apartment house and café; back to our home, which was also a rooming house, on Cynthia Place between Linden and Vance avenues. Privilege was an illusion because all of my friends and I had to deal with being Negroes in Memphis, poor and separate. Stress for me came packaged like this:

Watching men and women get drunk and razor cut each other every weekend like clockwork, yet return to work M-F as if nothing happened;

Watching and hearing women cussed, slapped, beat or stomped like clockwork according to their man’s whim, weakness or plain old evil;

Avoiding the leering and bold attempts of lecherous old men itching to show me what they could do to “turn me out”;

Fighting the girl who hated my guts every day after school for a full year just because my hair was “good” and my skin color was “light”;

Hearing the officer from the Health Department serve notice on an innocent girl for gonorrhea because some boy used her name to get even and she had to bear the shame, the beating from her frustrated and ashamed mother and take the painful penicillin shots anyway;

Getting whippings that today may be punishable by law when your mama just couldn’t take her own abusive situation anymore and wanted to make sure you didn’t follow in her footsteps;

Hiding underneath the house with your friend to keep him company after his drunken daddy nearly beat him to death for standing up for his mother;

Seeing the same boy go to jail 10 years later for murdering that same man;

Seeing the sweet, quiet boy who couldn’t make sense of any of this stuff just blow his own brains out one day.

Through all of this, I learned, most of all, that it just wasn’t safe to be me.

Fast forward

I became a compulsive achiever and successful by anyone’s standards. Yet there were some things I simply couldn’t do. I didn’t know how to relax; how to ever consider myself deserving of success; how to ever be quite “good” enough; how to bear criticism; how to face any form of failure or trust a relationship with a man.

In spite of being highly successful and functional, the continuous stress caused my body to give me lots of warnings before it completely shut down one day. The warnings came in the form of failed marriages, a little surgery here and there, periods of profound sadness (skillfully hidden) and thyroid disease.

The day that I was diagnosed with a severe, presumed unrecoverable, stress-related illness was the day I determined to understand stress and do battle with it on my terms. It was the day that I decided not to ever again be a victim!

Things I have learned

Many of our seemingly irrational responses to stress in our lives do actually have an explanation.

There is a part of the brain called the “primitive brain.” This is the brain that we used millions of years ago to survive as a species. It still exists and continues to serve to preserve us by taking over when our safety is threatened. The problem is that it knows only three major responses: fight, flight or freeze.

Fighting is not generally accepted or even possible in a so-called civilized environment or for a child; fleeing or running is not always possible; and so that leaves freezing as the only way out. The mechanics of “freezing” have only been recently understood. When we are threatened or feel unsafe, particularly as children, the event is freeze-framed in our memory while we cope by hiding, sublimating, crying or just being scared out of our wits.

We tuck the memory away; but any future similar events will call up the video of how we coped in the past and put it into play. The original recording captures the sounds, smells, moods, feelings and everything related to the unsafe event. For example, to this very day, I am deeply disturbed by raised voices between a man and a woman and my emotions go haywire as I prepare to re-experience all of the beatings, cutting and fighting memories from my childhood. A freeze frame like this can cause a person to avoid conflict at any cost whether it is real or imagined!

Some freeze frames can cause irrational behavior around simple things such as food choices. I remember an event as a child of getting sick and vomiting endlessly and being able to eat nothing but bananas for days. Today, I can eat banana pudding but hate whole, really ripe bananas. Just the smell makes me crazy!

These freeze frames, (and we have tons of them) cause behaviors that are self-sabotaging. Self-sabotage means that we do irrational things that are destructive or obstructive to our own intent; we hamper or hurt our own progress. Self-sabotage revolves around issues of safety, deserving, and fear of abandonment, security and so forth. It shows up in business, relationships and health very frequently.

Self-sabotage is not deliberate; we don’t plan to block our own success. It comes from all of these sub-conscious blocks or fears resonating out of our past experiences and the primitive brain’s duty to protect and preserve us at all costs! The primitive brain is quite creative and does whatever it needs to do to keep us safe in our self-defined comfort zone while at the same time keeping us totally unaware of what we are doing to ourselves.

This is where the frustration, shame, blame and guilt come in.

If deep down you don’t think you deserve success, you may do something stupid to undermine yourself; if it’s not “safe” to be the only one in your family who loses weight successfully, you simply won’t do it, never understanding why.

If you subconsciously believe that you should be punished for some past guilt, you will not allow yourself to enjoy a particular success.

One of the best self-sabotaging routines is procrastination. This one usually has to do with the frame of “I won’t do it and you can’t make me,” even when you know the consequences are dire.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)

While there are many ways to address and get rid of these frozen frames, in my consulting practice, I use a technique called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). I have used it on myself and clients for over ten years.

The information and coaching I provide is intended to educate, inform and inspire my clients on their journey to successful and healthy living. It is clearly not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, and is definitely not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are under a doctor’s care (or should be), you are strongly encouraged to discuss new efforts with them prior to making changes, and never discontinue or reduce medications without consulting your physician or pharmacist.

I don’t have room in this article to go into great detail, but I can tell you that EFT is like acupuncture without the needles, incredibly effective and works to release stress blocks.

Freeze frames create energy blocks in the body that impede the flow of emotions and emotional release. Gary Craig, who developed EFT, says, “A cause of the continuation of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system.”

When we experience pain, fear, anxiety or other negative emotions, something is interfering with the natural flow of the body’s electricity. Our bodies are profoundly electric. Electrical messages are being constantly sent throughout the body to keep it informed of what is going on inside and outside. Without this energy flow, we would not be able to see, hear, feel, taste or smell. When the EEG or EKG is flat, we are no longer alive.

Our personal performance and capacity for healing depends on an uninterrupted flow of electricity throughout the body. EFT has done much to help so-called “non-compliant” patients to become winners.

(Lucy Shaw will present a 90-minute workshop called “When It’s Not Safe To Be Me” at the Tri-State Defender’s Tri-State Trek 3K Walk & Family Fun Day on June and will demonstrate the use of EFT. She invites not only neighborhood residents, but anyone interested in learning more about this subject and this easy-to-use method. Space is limited. RSVP at 901-523-1818 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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