“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” ― Mark Twain
You’re worried, and stressed out.
Who isn’t these days?
You could practically call it an epidemic, from how everyone seems to talk about the stress they’re under.
A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with a close friend.
And it slowly dawned on me that our conversation basically consisted of complaints.
Maybe you know this pattern too.
Which isn’t necessarily wrong: it can be healthy to vent our frustrations and concerns, as long as complaining doesn’t itself become another source of fuel for our stress.
How can you use your stress as a sign or signal to help you, instead of further weighing you down?
Memo from your body
Despite how weird it might sound, your body can actually provide some important information about what’s going on for you, especially when you’re under stress.
For you, what happens in your body when you’re stressed?
Is it a creeping ache in your stomach: a knot, some mild nausea?
Or perhaps you notice your shoulders inching their way to your ears.
Or maybe for you, it’s a mild clenching in your chest, or something catching in your throat.
Before you label me as “woo-woo” and click away, hold on for a second: beyond the new-age sound of it, it’s known that our bodies register our experiences before our minds can sense, much less interpret, what’s going on.
Why this isn’t “woo-woo” nonsense
Neuroscience is helping us learn that even the verbal metaphors we use for our experience of stress – like having a “gut sense” or how you were “choked up” over something – actually represent a connection between our body and our consciousness.
The vagus nerve, which runs by our intestines, heart, and throat, actually brings information from these body parts to our brain, and functions as a type of early alarm system for our brain.
So, beyond the “woo-woo” factor, the more you can tune into what’s happening in your physical experience, stressful or not, you’ll be able to address whatever’s happening more intentionally and mindfully.
Find patterns in your thoughts
Once your brain has registered stress in your system, it usually creates some thoughts about the stress.
If you spend enough time paying attention whatever you’re stressed or worried about, you’ll notice that it’s a series of thoughts.
Dig a little deeper into what you’re thinking about when you’re stressed, and you’ll probably see some patterns.
Underneath most worries are fears: a set of negative beliefs.
The antidote to worry
While we are conditioned to avoid stress, pain, and fear – to fight, flee, or freeze – sitting and breathing through the stress is the best way to actually loosen its grip on us.
Notice that underneath most of the experiences we label as “negative” – what we fear, what we worry about, what we doubt in ourselves, what we complain about – is a belief or a legitimate need.
Pausing, noticing, and labeling what’s driving us when we’re stressed (or really any other time) can help us identify the true needs underneath.
Once we understand our underlying needs (for connection, recognition, peace, etc.), the antidotes to our stressors become clear: taking mindful intentional action – small steps – towards what we really want.
In the Comments below, let me know your reactions: what helps you when you’re stressed?
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Photo credit: Pixabay