“Stress is the trash of modern life – we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life” – Danzae Pace
Does it ever feel like you are living in a fog? There is so much to think about and so little time. Sometimes we forget important things, like the #5 thing on our to-do list or someone’s birthday. Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with our minds racing, unable to quiet the thoughts of yesterday or the plans for tomorrow.
Stress is something that we experience at a number of levels: mentally, physically, relationally (between ourselves and others). This post is about the physical experience of stress and how we hold it in our bodies – usually without even being aware of it!
I am not a medical doctor, but as a therapist I have learned about the ways in which our bodies and our emotions are connected. I am continuing to learn about the many ways that our bodies hold onto our past and current experiences. What this type of science means to you is that there is a chance for a more conscious and controlled way that you can deal with stress.
What is my body trying to tell me?
Recall the last moment in your life which qualifies as “stressful.” Your spouse is angry at you, you are driving and late to an appointment, perhaps you have made a mistake in your work. Try to bring yourself back to that moment and notice every detail. Notice how your breathing and heart rate was different, and any physical pains that arose (like stomach discomfort or a head ache). When we experience these “small” day-to-day “stressors”, there is often little time to process them before we move onto the next step of our day.
Our bodies need time to heal from the physical experience of stress. If you can become more aware of our own body during a moment of stress, you take more control over the moment and reduce the level of stress that you experience (through breathing, laughing, closing your eyes for a moment, etc). Get to know the way your body responds to things, and practice identifying what you feel in the moment. For example, I may be able to tell that my anger is escalating when my hands begin to shake. I can identify fear when my stomach feels twisted and my chest feels tight.
Since there often isn’t time to regulate and calm our stress level down right when we are triggered (such as right when that car cuts you off on the freeway), schedule some time with yourself in the evening to reflect on the day. Moderate your breathing during that time of reflection. Try five to ten minutes of cleansing breath while reflecting on physical experience emotions of the day, every day, and see what you notice after one week.
Chronic physical pain and discomfort is a known contributor to, as well as symptom of, stress in our lives. Noticing the pain associated with stressful experiences may allow us to grasp a moment to process the pain rather than letting our bodies store it as stress and turn it into a back ache.
If we practice, we can identify important clues that our body gives us that we are currently experiencing a high level of stress, or that we have excess stress stored in our bodies over time. This awareness can help us heal our bodies in the moment, and clear our minds in order to embrace the future.
The gift that we can give to ourselves is proactive, preventative care. Taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and smile every few hours may not erase the woes of our work and home lives, but it will certainly better equip us to enjoy the journey we are on.