by Vicy Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, BCC
When we’re feeling very stressed, we tend to run in autopilot mode, moving rapidly from task to task with mindless drive towards some mysterious finish line when we can finally achieve the ability to relax. This very behavior is a great place to begin with listening to stress. When you find yourself in this “driven” state, it’s a really good time to just STOP for a minute. Take some deep breaths. You can even breathe in a special way to immediately create an internal relaxation response in your body: inhale as you count to four and then exhale as you count to eight. Do this 3-5 times (minimum), which will take you about a minute. You may not suddenly feel like you’re on vacation, but you will have created a little “speed bump” in your stress pattern which will create a space for a deeper awareness about your state of being.
After a few breaths, spark up some internal dialogue with the stress you’re feeling. Literally ask yourself, “Why am I feeling so stressed right now? What do I need that I’m not getting?” Keep breathing until you get a response that actually addresses your needs, and is not just a repetition of the voice you’ve been hearing in your head all day while you’ve been running from task to task, which usually sounds like a cross between a talking to-do list and a drill sergeant who found a tape of every bit of conflict in conversation you’ve had over the past year.
It is when we take the time to create a bit of space – empty space – that a new pattern or idea or possibility can emerge from the gloom of stress. In doing this stress-disruption procedure one day last week, as soon as I stopped for a few breaths and asked why I felt so stressed right then, I got immediate feedback: I needed to eat. I was feeling stressed because I’d gotten up just a bit late that morning, which made me just a bit late for rowing class, which made me late for…, you get the idea. And in all that rushing and lateness, I’d not sat down and eaten a proper meal. My body was physically stressed. As soon as I addressed this need, I still felt motivated to keep working, but I no longer felt the urgency and “drive” that was tensing up my body and making me feel pushed and uncomfortable. As a bonus, I got a lot more done during the next few hours, too, without feeling stressed at all.
Learn more about conquering stress in this article Let Go of Stress: Redirect Your Energy.