This post comes in three parts. Part one is about acceptance. Part two will be about rethinking the ways we define and approach emotional and physical fitness. And yes my sweet stress bunnies, part three will be about the payoffs that come from attending to your unique body. These conditions require us to do that every day. The good news is that the rewards are far greater than the efforts to do the work.
This is for my fellow travelers on the high stress scale:
- Someone with Post Traumatic Stress
- Someone who is a Highly Sensitive Person
- Someone who has experienced chronic physical pain (e.g., back, hip, neck, etc.)
- Someone who is in the mixmaster: divorce, deaths, unemployment, violence, financial hardship, moving, foreclosure, etc.
The first step towards feeling grounded, feeling good, is accepting that painful events have taken their toll on your body.
Acceptance may be the most difficult aspect. The way our brain and nervous systems are wired, when tension builds up in our bodies, it becomes increasingly impossible to feel the effects of life’s shenanigans. Your brain tells you everything is o-k-a-y, because that’s its job: to keep you moving, to keep you safe.
Most of us can clue into the emotional havoc challenges bring. We get frustrated by the mental disorganization we’re experiencing. What is difficult to connect is the fact that our body has taken blows from it all. Our bodies are the lens through which we experience our lives. Where else do you think you’d be taking these hits?
We get frustrated because we can’t seem to beat a sense of inertia or on the flipside of the same coin, we can’t sit still. At some point in this stress vortex, most people I’ve met on this stress scale (myself included) have felt so desperate and frustrated, we decide to up the ante just to get some control and get past the ways we’re stuck. We tell ourselves we’re going to push harder. Train for a marathon. Cut the carbs. Or sugar. Workout two hours instead of one.
We try to manage and control our fatigue, instead of giving in to it. Sometimes, our nervous system is so worked up, it can even seem dangerous to slow down.
Here’s the thing: you can create more problems for yourself by approaching your “physical fitness” in a conventional way. Trying to prove you’re “strong” and like everyone else is only going to weaken you. The rules about what’s healthy or sound in the fitness-industrial complex–ie…pushing yourself, especially past fatigue and working your body hard–do NOT apply to you. Though you might get a high at the time, that’s all it will be. You’ll be wearing down your body by unintentionally building up more adrenaline and running on reserves you probably don’t have by now.
Surprisingly (and frustratingly) the best thing you can do is surrender. Your stressed-out brain might tell you you’re weak or lazy. Mine did. But that’s really a sign that you’re moving in the right direction.
If you can accept this wildly counter-intuitive advice, the news gets much, much better from here. Giving in to the reality of what’s really going on allows you to re-chart your course in a way that may feel like the long way around the barn, but that will return you to health and vitality far faster than powering-through with a so-called shortcut.
I’ve included a list of symptoms of an overly-stressed body below. Feel free to tell us about any additional symptoms you’ve experienced that aren’t on this list. It’s time for us to share information and learn from each other.
A sampling of symptoms, that is, the cries for help from our stressed out bodies can include :
- Are you feeling like a cranky-pants out of nowhere? Unpredictably snapping or uncharacteristically grouchy? Thinking violent thoughts?
- Is your mind racing too much to let you sleep?
- Is physical activity making you tired? (Note: this can happen hours and even the day after a “workout”; the exhaustion response can be masked by a rush of adrenaline.)
- Feeling numb or out of it: someone cracks a genuinely funny joke, but you can’t muster a smile. Or feel happy for someone. Or sad for them.
- Feeling like you don’t want to be around anyone. Avoiding groups or individuals, even loved ones whose company you usually enjoy.
- Inertia—that dragging feeling. Maybe you can’t get anything done–even the stuff you like. (Beating yourself up about it can also be a stress response.)
- Indigestion or acid stomach. A disruption of digestion, barring other causes.
- Thinking about upcoming events combatively: you have an appointment with someone who’s challenging, and ruminate about ways to control or deal with them. Or you’re getting pissed and worked up about the ways they might treat you.
- An extreme approach to food and diet.
- Unexplained hunger. (If you can’t relax when you eat, your brain can’t get the signal that it’s been fed.)
- Obsessive thoughts—rumination, or constant judging.
- Using things that should be used in moderation to excess: drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc.
- Any kind of chronic pain you keeps popping up no matter how much physical therapy, massage, yoga etc. that you’ve done.
- An aversion to being touched
- You are easily startled. Sensitive to loud noises.
- You have problems with debt, and saving for your future.
- You have problems planning for your future.
We’ve come to the end of this part. Please share anything that comes to mind in the comments below. I would love to hear your experiences with this.