Imagine coming home from a stressful day at work and you badly need to unwind, de-stress, and get back into your zone. What options do you have to help you get there?
Perhaps you make a beeline to your computer or TV. Let your brain relax and veg out as you watch a favorite show, surf Facebook, and check out your favorite sites. Maybe you have a glass of wine. Perhaps you get yourself to a nearby yoga class or gym. Maybe you even get a massage or take a nice long walk in the crisp evening air.
These options are great and it’s awesome that you have them at your disposal. But what do you do when they are not enough? What happens when these universal tricks to help one unwind aren’t even able to make a tiny dent in the amount of stress that you are feeling? What if nothing is really helping take off the edge?
Should you drink more? Perhaps finish the bottle? Maybe watch TV or Facebook till you can’t keep your eyes open anymore and fall asleep from exhaustion? Perhaps take some anti-anxiety or sleeping medication? Unfortunately many times this just ends up making you feel even guiltier about your situation. (Obviously, this is not referring to individuals who need to take medication for their specific mental health situation. It refers to those who don’t actually need medication but might take it because they don’t know of any other solution).
Understandably, when we are feeling stressed, unhappy, or tense we naturally want to get away from those feelings. We desperately look for ways to distract ourselves from them so we don’t need to feel them. Oftentimes we find TV, work, drugs, alcohol, meaningless conversations, empty relationships, food, and basically anything that can help us get a break from ourselves, our thoughts, and our stress.
These fixes don’t really work, especially in the long run. They leave us forever running from ourselves and our uncomfortable feelings and rob us of the stillness and inner quiet needed to attempt noticing and enjoying the life around us.
There is a better option that can forever give you the upper hand on handling your stress. You can learn it relatively quickly, get good at it over a couple of days or weeks, and perfect it over a lifetime.
The key to really getting past your stressful feelings and not having them build up day after day is by learning how to get in touch with those feelings in your body. Now, I don’t just mean be conscious that you are feeling stressed and come to terms with it. This is an important step but just half the game. I mean learning how to actually feel and process the stressful sensations that your body is holding. This is always done in a relaxed and slow manner so it never feels overwhelming.
Let’s go back to the example of coming home really, really stressed. Now imagine you find a comfortable chair, sit down, and close your eyes. With your feet comfortably planted on the ground, you begin focusing your attention inward. You give yourself permission to take as much time as you need to begin noticing any sensations or feelings in your body while maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude.
At first you notice that your shoulders feel really tight and heavy, almost as if heavy weights have been placed on them. You can actually feel the tension between your shoulders, neck, and surrounding muscles. Then, despite the intense desire to leave that feeling behind and find any distracting thought or activity to take its place, you find the courage to nonjudgmentally hang out with that feeling for a couple more seconds. As you pay closer attention, you start to notice your shoulders softening up and begin unwinding from the tension that they are holding.
After that, you notice your stomach feels really tight and stuck, so you shift your attention there. A few seconds later, a breath, slightly deeper than previous ones, naturally comes up and releases with it some tension. You continue your practice for about 15 minutes while letting your body release the tension it has built up from the day. You get up and leave the room feeling as if you have come back to yourself and you can reconnect with humanity.
Man relaxing photo available from Shutterstock