The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back

The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred today at approximately quarter past five pm. I arrived home from work to discover a pile of my clean laundry strewn over my bed, in a creased heap. My chimp dissolved into tears and experienced an utter lack of control. Raging at whoever was nearest at the complete lack of concern of, let’s be honest, the person who bothered to do the laundry in the first place. ‘Who did the washing?’ she raged. ‘You could have folded it!’ she continued furiously. ‘I always fold everyone else’s washing!’ Her pitch heightened as her hands balled into fists. The on-lookers stared in frozen silence…

At first glance, this event alone is not enough to send me or anyone over the edge. It’s what happened beforehand; the accumulation of many straws over the course of the day, which made this straw the one which broke the camels back. The camel was heavily laden at the end of the working day, followed by a traffic jam which doubled my journey time to one hour and then I arrived home to the washing…

The Chimp Paradox book addresses instant stress and chronic stress. In the chapter regarding instant stress, we are councelled to deal with instant stress constructively, rather than just reacting to it. The problem with this is, that the chimp is well out of its cage by the time we are ready to deal with the stress, and has ‘behaved badly’. So we need to train our chimps to pause and take a breath. This is a skill which requires practise. Over time we should train ourselves to: recognise instant stress and tell ourselves to change our reactions; hit the pause button and calm down; escape and distance ourselves from the problem; look at the problem from an outside perspective and rate the problem on a scale of importance (Is the problem worth the stressful feelings?); make a plan to remove the stress; reflect before reacting, then activate the plan; finally, smile and laugh at yourself if you have overreacted.

Earlier, when I was crying over the washing, my partner entered the bedroom and laughed. I laughed too because I knew I was being self absorbed and had overreacted about the washing. At the same time, we both knew it wasn’t serious but recognised the need to let the chimp tire itself out. Hopefully it will sleep well tonight!


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