DIGGING OUT FROM THE FALLOUT OF HIGH STRESS, POST TRAUMATIC STRESS etc..: PART 2
In Part 1 of this post, I covered acceptance. Acceptance that our bodies and psyches have been affected by the loss and turmoil in our lives.
Before I go on, I feel the need to share some love and information for people in the chronic pain arena. Back, hip, neck, knee pain etc…Pain is a huge stress on our bodies. Especially when it’s chronic. The part of our brain that takes over when we’re too stressed (and causes problems), doesn’t really care how the pain and tension gets there. It affects your nervous system just as much as someone dealing with stress that originates outside of their body. For a lot of people, the pain they’re experiencing is the fallout of life’s challenges too–all that tension can affect the structural integrity of the skeleton. Ultimately, this all applies to you too.
Now that you know that pushing yourself will only further trash your nervous system, and create adrenaline from working “hard” (and going for hard muscles), foster fatigue, bad moods, and a general anti-social stance–what CAN you do?
The best thing to do is to work with what you’ve got. Start where you are, no matter how humble your physical circumstances feel. Love the body you have. Trust the Force, Luke. You get the picture.
More practically speaking, here are some actions I would recommend:
1) Do what makes you feel good, i.e., go for the love. Does this sound squishy and woowoo? I don’t care: physiologically speaking, you will heal the fastest, you will be returned to the original state of joy and energy that once felt normal most expediently, if you invite experiences that make you feel good and put you around people you like. It’s magic for the nervous system.
And so, I present you with a new mantra: What would feel good right now?
If you can, do that thing, even if that thing is “take a nap.” If you can’t, at least try to imagine yourself doing it and giving yourself permission to do it. Ignore your inner-perfectionist Drill Sergeant. Dropping and giving him 20 or squeezing out a 15-mile run is going to make the problem worse, not better. Even worrying about it will exacerbate things.
Here’s a working list of suggestions. Think of it as a jumping-off point, a guide to your own discovery of what feels good. It’s okay if it changes on any given day. Feel free to throw in more ideas in the comments section:
Cook, sing, stretch, take a salt bath, do tai chi, blast the music and sing. Garden. Meditate. Take a walk. Play with the dog. Or cat. Draw or paint. Swim. Take a water aerobics class with a bunch of 87-year-olds. Hug somebody. Play with anyone under the age of 5 or over the age of 75. Play an instrument. Join a band. Or form one. Go to the park and read while you listen to kids playing in the background. Write in your journal. Write anything. Get a massage. Get some acupuncture-it’s the best for putting your body in a healing state!
Important: do it only as long as doing it feels really good; as soon as it doesn’t, STOP. Which is not saying hold out til you feel bad. Capice? You will know that point to stop over time, if you just listen to your body.
If you choose something meditative, don’t impose rules about doing it a certain amount of time or a certain frequency like every day. Start with small increments. Set a timer for 3-4 minutes or whatever feels easy. When you’re done, ask yourself if you want to do it again for another 3 minutes. You can always do more later if you feel like it.
Remember, there are no conditions. You don’t have to be good at the things you like to do. You just have to feel good doing it.
If you want to do something more active, not because you should, but because you intuitively know it would feel good, remember to only do it for as long as it feels good. It’s okay to start and realize it’s not what you want and stop, too.
2) Make time every day to do at least three things that make you feel good. That are pleasurable. This is VITAL for recovering a fried nervous system. It’s not only about undoing stress–it’s about HEALING from the long-term damages. It will also make you stronger physically and emotionally. Feeling the bad stuff that comes up in your life won’t take so much out of you.
3) Make a lot of time in your life to be around the people who feel good to be around. This is not to be confused with the people we love! Though that’s lovely. Notice who makes you feel good. Sometimes, it is more obvious after you’ve said good-bye. Once you have your list of people, make sure you get yourself in the same room with them regularly. Or park bench. Or bowling alley. You get the idea. Just love the heck out of them. And stay on the look-out for more humans like them.
Be patient with this sorting process. You do have people out there who fill the bill, but you may not have met them—or many of them—yet. You may even have been too boxed in by your own stress to have noticed them. As you relax and recover (and surrender!), you will magically discover more and more of these people everywhere.
This seeking-pleasure-and-relaxation business is also crucial to the process of understanding what slows you down and stresses you out. If you’re feeling pretty good more and more of the time, you have the gift of contrast so you can notice when you don’t. Which leads me to numero quatro!
4) Learn about what drives your stress-bunny response. Your stress make-up is unique, like a snowflake. The easiest way to track your stress is to notice (not change!) your breathing. Take time–even a few minutes here and there throughout your day–and just listen to your breath. Don’t judge, or impose rules about the length of your inhale and exhale. Just let go and follow it. (working on an audio meditation for this….)
If you’ve noticed your breath is shallow, think about the last few hours, or even the last 24. Did something trigger a tightening? Be gentle and patient with yourself as you review. Sometimes, these things can be very small and easily overlooked. (And as always, please please please try not to judge yourself for any response. You are human; we all are!)
Paying attention to the breath also syncs you with your reptilian brain—the part of us that takes over when we get too overwhelmed or shut down from stress. That same part controls our breathing. It is rudimentary, but it is very wise. And wild. Surrender to it. Show it you’re listening.
5) Try new things! Explore different groups and activities and only stick with the people and activities that are fun and feel good. Not the ones you think you “should” be doing. If you’re single and can afford it, consider getting a dog. And training it. Cuddling too! I’m writing this at a tea house where there have been people playing board games. There’s really so much to try. If you’re a hardcore perfectionist do the stuff that makes you feel like you’re slacking off and guilty as soon as possible.
Number 6, this last one’s important.
6) Treat SHOULDS with extreme caution. They are everywhere in our culture, and they can really send you down the dark path, even the so-called “good” shoulds. For example, I used to practice Tai Chi trying to be perfect and stronger than I was. That’s right: I took an ancient practice designed to calm the nervous system and instill healthy self-image to beat the crap out of myself. It pretty much quashed most of the benefits that came out of those practices. Today, I passed a park and heard it calling. I pulled over and did some Tai Chi. I have no idea how long it took. I just did for as long as it felt really good.
Over time, if you create enough rules out of fear (fear of dying of cancer, fear of being too fat, fear of not being fit), these rules can turn on you, big-time. New research is showing that creating this kind of subconscious ongoing stress in your body could be much more harmful to you than just eating the donut, not exercising hard, not being a size 2–etc…
Finally, if you can’t work with me, find a TRE teacher. If you’re not near a teacher buy the DVD. See if you can find a friend to do the DVD with you. I have yet to find a modality more effective than TRE at providing a deep letting go of the past’s physical hold on us. If you’re in the chronic pain group, consider coming to New Mexico to work with me for a few days. I know the cost of trying to get out of pain and chasing symptoms–coming here would be a much more cost-effective investment. (feel free to call me to discuss).
And speaking of the past and trauma: If you’re experiencing intense feelings, memories etc and TRE isn’t possible, look for a support group. 12-step group. Therapist. And acupuncturist. Help your body. Go as often as you need to. Or do the TRE and all of the above. If it feels right, do it! Grief and the processing of tough emotions is a stress on the body. Respect that! It’s not the time to go on an extreme diet or physical “fitness” plan. Or to beat yourself up about what you’re not able to do.
Next post is about the rewards. I’ll also speak a little more to the people dealing with chronic, structural pain. In the meantime, your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to think about the things that make you happy. And the people. And the activities.
The way to get ahead of our stress states is to make the time to treat ourselves well. The prescription is joyful abandon. With good people. If you can handle that.
Just worry about today and find the time. Repeat it tomorrow.