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Stop! Don’t eat that arm!

Posted Jul 18 2009 10:33pm

I am a bona fide fact fiend. It doesn’t really matter what the fact is about, what category it falls in, the more trivial it is the more I love it. I can’t remember people’s names, I have no recall regarding the Pythagorean Theorem (or anything else vaguely useful), but tell me a bizarre fact and I will never forget it. So when this juicy tidbit came my way you can imagine my delight:

Under extreme stress an octopus will eat its own arms.

One down, 7 to go

One down, 7 to go

I had to read it twice to be sure and then I had to check the website of every prominent researcher of these cephalopods. Yup, it’s true. Picture yourself as a cute, color-changing, giant-eyed octopus. You’re floating around the ocean, having a grand ol’ time until a shark comes along and tries to eat you. You, understandably, freak out. Then you proceed to eat one of your arms. You have another 7, right? No big deal… until an eel slinks up and tries to make you its lunch. Gone is another arm. Then a powerboat whizzes by looking to net a tasty octopus… you get the idea. Soon you are an armless, helpless octopus lying on the bottom of the sea, inking all over yourself. This is not a recommended strategy for stress management.

Except we, as humans, engage  in this behavior all of the time. Although we may not munch on our arms, the results are no less devastating. When facing stressful situations, how often have you:

  1. Reached for the chocolate cake because you deserved it.
  2. Threw your exercise routine out of the window.
  3. Instead of focusing on what you could reasonably accomplish, you take on more.
  4. Rather than face the source of stress, you hide under the bed.

All of these behaviors are self-defeating. Pigging out to the point of bursting isn’t going to fuel your body which needs a lot of nutrients under times of stress. Staying up all night worrying probably doesn’t lead to clarity and decisive action regarding the issues you’re facing. While you cannot always control the stressors that creep into your life you can control your reaction to them. You can recognize that stress is bearing down on you and instead of dropping all self-care behaviors know that it is possible to be kind to yourself, to treat yourself well, to give your body a chance to weather the storm. That’s a better strategy than looking wistfully at your tentacles lying motionless on the ocean floor.

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