In my youth, I remember feeling so stressed I could not breathe. Feeling so stressed I could not think, sleep or eat. My heart felt like a brick, my head hurt and my shoulders were up around my ears with tension. I’m not sure if it is just stress management skills that developed or if age mellows us out, but that doesn’t happen anymore.
We are all having some sort of COVID stress; months of somewhat isolated lives, no getting together with friends. Trips to the store are something we now plan and think about with organization. I am fully aware of people who stand too close in a line and of crowds gathering. This is our daily stress. We are learning to cope and live with it, adjust to it and it has become “normal” after all these months.
My clients are showing up with stressed bodies which play out as stiff or painful backs, hips and/or shoulders. Some are coming in with headaches and problems with sleeping through the night. New clients arrive with a list of similar issues but not quite understanding that their problems could be very related to their structure and their body’s inability to get to neutral which lets stress pass through.
We all have to be concerned with our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems at this point in time. A quick explanation. Someone cuts you off in your car and you narrowly escape a collision. Your heart rate speeds up, you blast the horn, you might mouth off. That is your sympathetic nervous system charging you through. Your parasympathetic nervous system’s job is to rise up, lower the charge and bring you back to neutral off-setting the upset. If we go through enough stress and trauma and our systems are not engaged to balance each other out, we mount up with stress. Remember years ago, when people went “postal”? That expression came from a few postal workers who had mounting stress and without a way to lower that stress, started shooting everyone around them.
The job of the parasympathetic nervous system is to bring you back to a normal level. Stressful things happen, we respond, we get over it and the day goes on. It is our job during this chronically stressful time to do our best to stay calm. There are ways to strengthen our parasympathetics, doing yoga; getting bodywork; using a flotation tank; deep, conscious breathing; and plenty of sleep to name a few things. What we need to do is find that stress-lowering ability to have life coming at us, but the capacity to bring ourselves back to center and move beyond.
The best way to release stress is to develop an attitude of moving through it instead of going around it. The only way out is through. Identifying what is really going on is crucial. Is it family stress? Is it job related? Is it socially induced? Is it due to an illness or pain? Is it COVID related, a change in routine, isolation and/or depression? Try turning off the television, turn off the music and stop all the distractions. We want to avoid the discomfort and numb out on media, being busy, and keeping socially active, when what we really need is silence that could bring the answers.
When you feel the tension rising from your stressful situation, a few things can really help. Bodywork, yoga, flotation tanks, deep breathing techniques and meditation are helpful. I love to take a dance break. Record some great tunes that inspire you to get up and move. Turn on the music and dance for even two or three minutes. It is a great way to get yourself out of the moment and feel your body. That will help to ground you and shift your level.
Another thing to try is to get outside and be in nature. Negative ions are molecules floating in the air and atmosphere that have been charged with electricity. They are naturally created by moving water like rain showers, crashing waves and even fountains. Negative ions are also formed by plants, sunlight and wind. Research confirms that exposure to negative ions has a positive effect on cognitive performance, increased psychological health, productivity, overall well-being, stress reduction and boosting the immune system. With all that documentation the message is clear, get outside. Take a walk, go for a run, do some gardening, take a drive to the shore or a hike to a waterfall. You are in charge to make a change.
Stress is an inevitable part of life. With the right tools we can shift gears and overcome a lot of it. Dance, walk, kayak, enjoy the rain, float, get great bodywork. Get up, move more and know that your stress will change with time. Take charge and take great care of yourself.
Sharon Sklar is in her 40th year of private practice as a Certified Advanced Rolfer. State licensed and the only Rolfer in Central CT, Sharon works with direct manipulation of the soft tissue of the body and movement re-education over a ten-session series to help her clients feel freer, get more balanced and reduce chronic pain. Great for athletes, children and adults recovering from stress, injuries and the traumas of life. Call 860.561.4337 for more info or to schedule a consultation.