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Distress Awareness

To put a face on the emotion, visualize: Eyebrows arched upward and inward, sometimes forming a pie-shaped arch in the lower middle forehead. The inner corners of the upper eyelids are drawn up, and the lower eyelid is pushed upward. The corners of the mouth are drawn downward and the chin muscle is pushed upward and raises the center of the lower lip. To really see it, sit in front of a mirror and put on a “distressed face.”

Think of your dominant Environments of Evolutionary Adaptedness—your work environment and relationships. What are the pervasive emotional moods that characterize them, and what do they communicate about each environment? By pervasive, I mean the typical feelings you continually experience in the course of your day.

For example, some people leave home in a great mood and spend all day at work in a state of frustration and anxiety. Others leave home feeling perturbed and become enthused once their team meeting has started, only to become dejected again shortly after dinner.

Everyone experiences distress at work and at home; that’s a norm. However, when the pervasive mood you experience in these environments is distress, the emotional communication is saying you are not well off.

Reflect on the different emotions and moods that you experience in different environments and compare and contrast—you’ll get some quick awareness into how some of your environments elicit different feelings in yourself—some positive, some not so positive.

In particular, in which environment, if any, do you feel distressed? How distressed? Mother Nature says your high intensity state of distress is urging you to move, or at the very least, to make adjustments.

Besides intensity, length of distressed time is important, too. When the distress message is calling you every day in a particular environment, it would be wise to make a move.

Everyday distress is a chronic condition, and, if it has been long term, you have spent a great deal of time already trying to adapt to the situation. Perhaps you are adapting and want to continue doing so. That is an individual choice. But be forewarned that people who choose to expose themselves to long-term distress, whether it is a marriage or a job, are never ones to thrive and feel as though they are living an enhanced live. How could they? There’s too much distress.

Sometimes, the distress attributed to a particular environment is short-lived. Your partner’s recovery from an illness might distress the whole family for weeks, but it inevitably passes. A company’s physical renovation inconveniences everyone. But inevitably, the job is finished. An inexperienced manager is at the helm, but only for a month. A company suffers temporary difficulties because of temporary global events. In situations like this, it would be absurd to “shelter seek,” because distress is known to be short-lived, so it is best to adapt to the temporariness of the situation, perhaps with the mental alternation: “It will soon be over.”

On the other hand, if distress is intense and long term, your evolved natural instincts are telling you: If you want to thrive, you have to leave a situation that you can only survive. Chronic distress in an environment means move!

These two factors, intensity of distress and length of distress are vital communications. The degree of intensity tells you, “In this environment, you are really not doing well.” The length of distress adds: “You’ve been feeling distressed for a while.”

Put the distress messages together: “In this environment, you are not doing well, and it has been for a long time, so you better make a move if you want to do better.”

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