Being with Stress

You can only lose what you cling to.” - Buddha 

Stress is linked to several leading causes of death and even though we cannot completely shut ourselves off from stress, we can learn to change our relationship with it by listening to our bodies.

April is stress awareness month, and for the past couple of weeks I have been committed to learning more about my relationship with stress. We all experience stress in our daily lives and have developed different ways to cope. After a stressful day at work, someone cuts you off on the freeway and by the time you get home, you are in no mood to make dinner. You might turn on the TV to unwind, or decide to go shopping or to the gym to “blow off some steam.” Although this kind of response might help us feel better, the stress still sits in our bodies.

The word itself – stress, has a negative connotation does it not? How do you feel when you think about the term? We all talk about stress as something happening to us, something out of our control. And most of the time what causes it is out of our control, however most of us ignore the feeling of stress rather than listen to it. Or even worse, we react, which just feeds the cycle of stress – that downward spiral? We have all been there.

Stress is quite literally a feeling of emotional or physical tension. Most of the time we do not take a second to pause and identify that tension. Am I clenching my jaw? Do I have shortness of breath? Are my shoulders relaxed? Is the tightening of my forehead causing a headache? I have spent the past couple of weeks trying to make a conscious effort to pause and observe how I respond to stressful situations. I am realizing that I not only hold tension in my shoulders, but also feel tightness and discomfort throughout my body – mostly in my gut and my chest area. Before reacting to a stressful situation, I have been teaching myself to pause and take a breath. I will be honest. I am not able to successfully pause each time, but for the times I do I learn a lot about myself. After observing where stress shows up first in my body, I become more gentle in my reaction. When we stress, our bodies go into fight or flight mode. Stress is actually a form of our body trying to protect itself. Think about that for a second. When our bodies are telling us something is wrong we should be listening. I have found that in listening, I am much kinder to myself. I am also able to let go of the little stresses and just bee. I challenge you to pause the next time you begin to feel stress and pay attention to where and how it shows up. Being more mindful of the thoughts and emotions we are holding in our bodies teaches us that we can work with stress and be grateful for our bodies that are only trying to protect us.

Read more about how stress affects your body.

Watch this TED Talk to learn about how to make stress your friend.

Anushe Shoro