STS: Subconscious Takeover Syndrome, a.k.a. overload. People are being crippled by this dreaded syndrome, which is a pity because serious cases can be helped tremendously if only people understood its cause.
STS is a normal function of the mind which helps prevent it from harm, imagined or real. Animals and our earliest ancestors reacted to danger in basically two ways, first by fighting the threat or secondly, by running away from it. An extreme form of running away would be playing dead until the threat was gone.
Through the years of evolution, this basic human defense mechanism has stayed with us. With modern man, this syndrome takes place from once to dozens of times in a single day. For example, any time your conscious mind (which is your logic and reason) tries to take on too many “message units” per second over its acceptable capacity, your subconscious will take over to try to save you.
A message unit is any bit of information from any source, from any or all of your five senses. For example, let’s say your mind can handle 2,000 message units per second. The clothes on your body are sending message units to your brain; the air temperature, your butt sitting on a chair and so on. And, any message units beyond the 2,000 per second will begin adding stress both mentally and physically. Now, someone can handle tens of thousands of message units per day but only 2,000 at a time!
The subconscious takeover begins with the release of chemicals that help prepare you to fight the threat. Generally, for people this is not acceptable behavior or we’ve been conditioned to believe so; so another defense mechanism comes into play which causes us to hold in all of our basic urges to lash out. The result is called stress or anxiety. The second way we deal with threats or overload is for the subconscious to release a different set of chemicals to enable us to run away. But again this is not generally acceptable behavior: to run down the street blindly and urinating all over ourselves in panic to get away.
Instead, we do a modern version of playing dead until the threat is over, which ends up putting us in a form of depression. This is a withdrawing into our ourselves which can become so bad that all we feel like doing is medicating ourselves through the use of alcohol or drugs so that we become oblivious to the threat or by binging with foods to pleasure ourselves into forgetting our problems at least for the moment or staying in bed and sleeping our lives away.
So how do you unload? Reduce the message units!
The first and the most important factor, of course, is recognizing the overload process. Second would be to catch the overload as close to the beginning as possible. Let’s imagine a snowball sitting at the top of a hill. At this size, the snowball is easy to handle. But once it rolls downhill, it collects more and more snow and the larger it becomes. At some point if you try to stop it, you won’t be able to and it will roll right over you. That’s how overload works in the extreme. I’ve worked with people who have carried around “giant snowballs” on their shoulders 24 hours a day, always under tremendous stress.
A technique I use that is very successful in helping combat overload is what I call “pigeon-holing”. The pigeon hole technique begins with imagining a big box on a wall that’s divided into many other little boxes. Think of it like the post office boxes which employees used to sort mail. You’re going to have to learn how to pigeon hole your problems in much the same way, but, by using your imagination and assigning priorities.
Throughout the day you’ll be faced with many things that could add to your message unit count. For example, you step outside of your home to go to work and it’s raining. You have a choice; you can add to your message units by thinking about the lousy weather, OR, since you have no control over the situation, you imagine placing that thought on a piece of paper and putting it in a little pigeon hole. In an instant, the problem, the negative input, can be gone. If you don’t put it away that quickly, it will build much like that snowball.
You get to work and find a pile of projects on your desk. You have a choice. You can add to your message units by worrying about the whole stack of things to do, OR, you can prioritize and start with one project, and in your mind, pigeon hole the rest.
There are some things that need to be done in the moment and others that need to be pigeon holed. Remember your brain can only take on so much at any one time. It takes practice but once you begin the mental process, you’ll see your level of overload reduced measurably.