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How do I know that I'm stressed?

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

Stress shows up in the mind & body, left to develop it can impact everything in our lives...

The past 4 weeks have been intensely low and heavy - poor sleep throughout, waking between 1-3.30 most of the month. Stuck in my head over-thinking and creating negative scenarios that hold no basis in reality, Lower back pain, lack of physical movement (in part also to a groin strain playing football trying to keep up with lads 15 yrs younger than me.) and lack of attention to my diet - something I usually am point with…these things always happen in the same way and it’s usually for 2 weeks or so - yet still despite the clear patterns repeating themselves, it’s difficult in the moment to really tune in and become aware of what is going, let alone why…

I tend to ignore the mounting signs (we humans have developed a remarkable resilience to stress) until I got to a point in the midst of it thinking ‘I can’t be f*cked to do anything’ that I realised I was stressed or depressed. I practice daily #meditation and facilitate a mindfulness-based stress reduction program - it seems ironic to then have these ‘issues’ take their toll on the mind and body. But it’s the practice that stops the continued spiral downwards to more severe symptoms and enable me to facilitate stress reduction workshops with participants - after all, if I’m not aware of my own stress reactivity how can I facilitate the environment for others to learn about theirs.

Stress shows up and manifests in many different ways and becoming aware of how it shows up for me and coming to terms with it - rather than resisting and ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ can help to be with the fluctuating nature of simply being human in all it’s complexities.

I think it’s safe to say that many will find the following familiar when stressed: chronic headaches, nausea, dizziness, inability to focus, short-tempered, sleep disorders - which lead to other poor coping mechanisms such as overworking or overeating. The spiral can continue to then depend on substances such as alcohol food or cigarettes. And this may continue to breakdown point or other severe illness.

Stress is part of the fabric of life - we are not going to get rid of it (stress is also good when harnessed i.e. job interview nerves or competing in sport), but learning how to respond to stress instead of reacting automatically like we may be used to, can be helpful in managing it so that it doesn’t get to it’s harmful potential.

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy”

- Friedrich Nietzsche

Paying more attention to the body has been important for me in reframing stress and becoming more aware that it’s actually taking place in the body first - not my mind (my thoughts about the stressor are not ‘true’, just my own perception). Within the 8 week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program one of the fundamental practices is the body scan meditation - lying down, it’s a practice in using the will to direct to focus on different regions of the body, really paying attention to the physical sensations that are present. These sensation are always there - no matter how minute - shifting, pulsating, vibrating, coursing, achey, beating etc.

The practice is not only of focused attention, but a way to re-establish connection to the body….and it’s in the body where the physiological reaction to stress takes place. And when I’m aware that the fight-or-flight reaction has automatically been triggered and the brain is alerting me to keep me safe - I’m not at the mercy of it and I have a choice in how I respond to the situation. The body is always talking, the trick is stilling the mind enough to be able to hear it. I’d recommend “Full Catastrophe Living - How to cope with stress, pain and illness using #mindfulness meditation” by Jon Kabt-Zinn.

Effort gives way to Existence

I’m becoming aware that often I get into these low-mood states for a few weeks because of the relationship I have with needing to do something productive, writing or consuming content which is going to help me or improve me, meditating or journaling - if I’m not doing something that is advancing me I feel not worthy or I’m wasting time. This creates a lot of psychological stress which then takes its toll on the body. Letting go of this attachment to more effort & producing more (perhaps a conditioning rooted in our capitalist society where these values are promoted for growth of the economic machine in which we are a cog, or on more personal level the Indian culture which often compares you with the Patel doctor or banker in anything you do) to sometimes simply exist, is a powerful recharge and breeds the notion that I am complete and whole simply because I exist - my value is not in my output.

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