Learning how to turn off your stress switches
by Sonja Heyck-Merlin
Matt Rush and Rich Taylor are the founders of a wellness program named “Stress Free You.” Rush, who has a ranch in Texas, used to work in corporate business. Taylor is a former advertising executive. They are also co-authors of the book “Stress Free You! Discover How To Turn of Stress with the Flick of a Switch.” During a presentation at the 2021 Women Managing the Farm conference, they discussed stress and introduced their methods for relieving it.
Both men described their former experiences with working long hours under intense amounts of stress. “We did things the wrong way,” Taylor said, “and I think that’s why Matt and I are experts on stress. Now we’re just trying to help people do it the right way.”
According to the duo, people were born and designed to live a life of love, joy, peace and a sound mind. Stress should be an occasional experience based on a response to a dangerous or overwhelming situation. At moments like these, the body has a sympathetic reaction, which the men referred to as “fight, flight or freeze.” Conversely, the human body should spend the majority of its time a parasympathetic state, what they referred to as “rest, digest, repair.”
“When you are faced with danger, your body automatically has a switch which immediately dumps hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the body,” Rush said. “People are not supposed to be in this ‘fight, flight or freeze’ state all the time. The physical toll is brutal.”
The consequences of regularly being in a sympathetic state, Rush said, include acid reflux, depression, hypertension, arthritis, chronic fatigue, decreased immune system function, etc. They differentiated between lifestyle stress and major stress events, both of which can trigger sympathetic reactions. Lifestyle stress relates to things that we have 100% control over – the work we do, the job we have, the people we associate with and what we do on a daily basis. Stress events are things that people have no control over, such as a death in the family or a company going out of business.
Major stress events are an inevitable part of life. The goal is to learn how prevent sympathetic lifestyle-induced stress reactions. Doing so will improve the quality of life and make it easier to cope with stress events that are beyond human control.
“We have the power to eliminate lifestyle stress,” Rush said. “We own it, so we can control it. We can turn it off or make it worse, and there is a hidden answer in plain sight. The answer is that just like our brain has a stress switch, we have stress switches. The good news is, if you turned on these switches, you can turn them off.”
In their book, Rush and Taylor outline 108 stress switches that can be turned off, although their presentation only introduced a few of these techniques. One recommended way to switch off stress was to take a “news blackout,” eliminating any news for at least a week. They also promoted turning off the “show me the money switch.” “So many times, we do things for money,” Rush said. “With more money comes exponential more amounts of stress. Don’t do things just for money. Do them for the cause and the purpose.”
Turning off the “be a real sport switch” is another recommendation that asks sports fans to stop watching sports. Taylor, a former sports fanatic, said the forward-sitting, face-jutting-out posture associated with watching sports actually triggers a sympathetic stress reaction. “Sunday is the day before the work week starts. Why should you spend it listening to guys yelling and screaming?” he asked.
The “location, location, location switch” was also discussed. The premise is that some lifestyle stress can be eliminated simply by putting things in the same location so that they are easily found.
The two said that until people can retrain themselves to eliminate stress, it will be very difficult to make other lifestyle changes. With stress comes “go-to” coping mechanisms that provide instant gratification, most of which are unhealthy and costly – technology, alcohol and drug addiction, binge eating and excessive spending. According to Rush and Taylor, it’s only when people are able to minimize lifestyle stress that they’re able to achieve long-lasting lifestyle changes.
“When we know that we can turn switches off, it allows our bodies that store stress to drain it away. Imagine how much better off you can be if you are in ‘rest, digest, repair’ instead of ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ Once you identify how to handle those daily stresses, you have a new life you can start living,” Rush concluded. “We have no control over life’s events; we can’t do anything about certain stressors. The important thing is to learn how to turn off the other lifestyle stressors. Then we can more easily plant the seeds of greatness in ourselves and others.”
“Stress Free You!” is available in print and digital versions. Rush and Taylor also host “Stress Free You!” – a free weekly podcast – with cohost Katy Rush.