When I feel stressed, I start biting my nails. This has become a habit which I have maintained for over 20 years now. Although I’m not particularly proud of this coping strategy, it has served to be quite useful in helping me notice when I’m feeling stressed. Biting my nails has become a warning sign; being able to notice this sign helps me to take relevant action to reduce my stress levels.
We all experience warning signs of stress; it could be insomnia, tension around the shoulders, headaches, mood swings, a change in eating habits, fatigue, brain fog, feeling despondent, being unable to make decisions, heart palpitations and the list goes on. Some of these warning signs are symptoms of stress, some are negative coping strategies that we may have acquired to deal with the stress. Noticing these warning signs is the first step in helping to manage them.
Us humans have the tendency to be reactive to stress, adding fuel to the fire instead of dealing with it when it arises. Tolle describes this well in his observation of two ducks fighting…
‘…after two ducks get into a fight…they will separate and float off in opposite directions. Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, thus releasing the surplus energy that built up during the fight. After they flap their wings, they float on peacefully, as if nothing had ever happened.
If the duck had a human mind, it would keep the fight alive by thinking… “I don’t believe what he just did…He thinks he owns this pond…I’ll never trust him again…I’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget.”’
The human mind likes to create stories, which keep the negative emotions alive. Negative emotions generate negative thoughts which in turn generates more negative emotions and the cycle begins.
The lesson is to be more like ducks! When a thought, feeling or situation arises that generates a strong negative emotion and activates our stress response. Instead of being reactive and allowing our stories to blow the situation out of proportion, can we be responsive?
By ‘responsive’ I mean noticing the warning signs of the stress and tension in our body and taking action to relieve it. Flapping our hypothetical wings! When we are able to pause and take action we can begin to cultivate positive coping strategies, that, with practice, can become a healthier default setting.
In the last 2 weeks me and my guest bloggers have suggested many ways to help to notice stress and take action. Here’ three steps to remember…
Step one: Pause
The very first thing to do is pause, to stop what you’re doing and check in. I spoke about ways to do this on Day Seven Accept.
Step Two: Breathe
Take 3 deep breathes in and out, feeling your feet on the ground, you’re bum on the seat, the gentle rise and fall of your chest and belly. For more extensive instructions and resources read Day One Breathe.
Step Three: Take Action
This is where we flap our wings! Exercise is a great way of relieving tension in the body. Laughter can help you bounce back and gain perspective. Mindful listening can help relax your mind and bring you back to your body. Asking for help is also a good way to take action, if the stress feels too heavy or unmanageable.
You know what makes you feel good. If that’s dancing, singing, baking, petting your dog, creating go do that! The action doesn’t need to be complicated, as long as it makes you feel good and it’s not at the detriment of yourself or others, then I say go for it!