Stress lingers unless we purge it. Long after a disagreement, a close call in traffic, or any stress provoking event, our bodies hold the remains of stress in our very tissues. The effects of unshed stress build up. They lurk behind ailments such as fatigue, insomnia, jaw-grinding, headaches and high blood pressure. Stress poisons our thoughts by subtly changing our outlook on possible outcomes of our endeavors. We become less optimistic, even less realistic, as we start to anticipate everything going wrong.
It’s not possible to prevent all stressful situations. We can reduce how bad those situations are for us, but controlling our environment to the degree that we duck every annoyance and aggravation eludes us. If we’re not aware of the creeping buildup of stuffed stress, we won’t take any action to drain away that stored up tension.
Both mindfulness and meditation kick accumulated stress out of our bodies and minds. Mindfulness shines best in this situation by letting us know where we’re hurting. If we stop and consider carefully how our bodies feel, from top to bottom, we can root out tension and dissolve it during meditation, yoga, or any one of a myriad of techniques and life approaches.
I always start with the areas I’ve identified as holding my stress: my shoulders and stomach. I also stop taking deep or even full breaths and slide into a short breathing cycle that makes anxiety worse. When you’re just starting out identifying your stress hidey-holes, starting from the head and going down to the feet (or in reverse) makes most sense. Retroflect and consider if you’re having headaches, or feeling the “tension band” squeeze your skull. Are your jaws sore or are you grinding your teeth? Moving down, is your neck tight? Shoulders, are those muscles bunched up or knotted?
Keep casting your attention downward. Do you have stomach cramps? How about irritable bowel syndrome? It’s not always caused by stress, but the syndrome gets far worse in stress’ presence. The legs are dominated by muscle groups. Some people clench their calf muscles when upset, and those muscles stay bunched. Leg cramps follow.
If mindful awareness is the stuffed stress detector, then meditation is one of the best dissolvers of stored up frustrations. Guided meditation can be very useful, as well. You can use visualization on your own. For example, think of each stressed area as a knot, a kind of bump in the road that doesn’t allow you to move forward. Slowly think of a knot coming undone. Imagine what being fully relaxed would feel like.
Meditation brings so many more benefits to life. We’ll consider those as we go along.
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