Mad As A Hatter

IMG_7259If there is one fashion accessory I really love, it has to be hats – especially vintage hats. I enjoy discovering hats in antique stores and collecting the vintage styles that blend well with my wardrobe. Wearing them serves a practical purpose, but it also adds a flair of excitement to my everyday style. When I was younger, I used to pile all of my hats upon my head at once and waltz around the house looking very much like the mad hatter.

Mad as a hatter; how did we come by such a saying? Well, during the 1700-1800s, mercury was used to make felt for the hats that were popular at the time, and prolonged exposure to the mercury would cause neurological damage. The neurological damage caused extreme mood swings, tremors, and slurred speech, which in that age was identified merely as “madness”. People who exhibited such behaviors would have been outside of acceptable society. As time went on, those hatters would become a by-word for any who exhibited crazy, eccentric, or abnormal behaviors; leaving many to be labeled “mad as a hatter”. We now know that the cause behind a hatter’s madness was over-exposure to mercury leading to mercury-poisoning and neurological damage. We also know that mercury is a very harmful substance to our bodies, and we strive to avoid it today. But at that time, such things were not yet known.

Today, we no longer make felt for hats with mercury; and hats of those fashions are no longer common accessories. We consciously strive to eliminate mercury from our diets, glass, water, dishes, cosmetics, and other every day items. Yet there are other things in our lives today that can still make us mad as a hatter – for instance, stress. Stress triggers several hormone chemicals in our bodies that, after long periods of exposure, can drive us into a type of madness.

One stress-related hormone is cortisol. Normally, our bodies produce cortisol throughout the day at regular intervals, increasing during the morning to get us going and decreasing in the afternoon and evening to help us wind-down and sleep. However, when we are stressed, we produce higher levels of cortisol, more commonly at night, in order to prepare us for the “impending danger”. We have a heightened alertness/awakeness and have difficulty falling asleep. Ever notice how when you’re stressed, you get a second wind of energy in the late afternoon/evening? This is your cortisol kicking back into high gear. If your body continues to do this for long periods of time, you will experience impaired cognitive function (you will have trouble thinking, making decisions, and reacting), as well as other health issues such as a lowered immunity and unhealthy weight gain. Even if you force yourself to sleep, your sleep will not be restful, and your brain will not be able to properly re-set and process, which can cause us to feel and act mad.

So, what can we do? We’ve all probably read the self-help articles on how to deal with stress, and their suggestions can range from practical to weird to unattainable: go to the gym says one; yell at your boss and get it off your chest recommends another (don’t – it’s a bad idea); go on a cruise and get away suggests a third. Whatever the suggestion is, they all share a common factor: focus on you – make yourself feel better by an external element.

I’d like to offer a slightly different approach. Find a quiet place and bare your soul. Get to the root of the stress. Find what is really triggering that reaction, and learn how to not just cope but conquer. We need to learn to condition our bodies to not be consistently reacting to stressors. In order to do that, we must deal with the root and not merely treat the symptoms.

We all find quiet in different places. Sometimes it might be in the car by ourselves or in a crowded store where we don’t know anyone and are able to retreat into the farthest recesses of our mind. Or maybe it’s on the porch at twilight or in the barn next to the horses. Or maybe it’s on top of a mountain watching the sunset or on the seashore with a sunrise or at noonday in a tree. Or maybe it’s in a closet or in the bath or in your favorite chair with a cup of tea. Wherever it is; go there for a half an hour or an hour and let your head stop spinning and let your thoughts get quiet. And while the world will still be spinning wildly around you, let out a deep breath and bring your mind to a standstill. Relish the nothingness for a few moments (I know, this can be really hard for girls, but seriously, try it). Then as your mind has finally gotten quiet, and there is only you and God, bare your soul. Pull out all the emotions, circumstances, worries, and frustrations. Lay them out on the table, and one by one, talk about each one. Label them. Analyze them. Be inquisitive about them – ask questions, but not in a demanding tone. Shed tears if necessary. Then sit quietly and wait for a reply. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Scripture tells us that Jesus would go into the wilderness to pray. Christ teaches us to go and pray in our closets away from the eyes of men. And in Psalms, we are commanded to be still. We all need to take time to be still and quiet and lay our burdens down before Jehovah. Otherwise, we will be as mad as hatters.

“Be still and know that I am God:” Psalm 46:10

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exhalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7