Stress has gotten a bad rap and this post is all about turning that around. A tall order, I know!
No one hears the word ‘stress’ and jumps for joy, although does anyone “jump for joy” after the age 12 anyway…? I digress.
In fact, did you know that varying levels of stress, along with healthy stress management can actually build your resilience and make you a physically and emotionally heartier human being?
…you could hear the word ‘stress’ and smile?
…you could actually appreciate stress?
…you could learn how to manage it really really really well?!
It’s possible, with some insight and tools, that you can harness all the energy that goes into resisting stress and instead make stress work for you.
Think about stress as a 100% organic medicine to keep your body and mind alert and to keep you moving forward. Stress, whether it’s positive or negative (yes, there’s such a thing as positive stress called ‘eustress’), keeps you attuned to things that require your attention. Unless, of course, you check out.
Embodiment is your key to building strength and resilience!
Embodiment means being fully present in your body and mindfully attuned to your body from both the outside in and the inside out (also called ‘interoception’). It’s fascinating that embodiment is the scientifically-proven most effective way to build your resilience, harness your stress and turn it into your strength. Embodiment requires your full presence because it’s subtle and in order to notice it, you need to be paying attention. This act of paying attention in such an attuned way is proven to do wonders for you body and your over all health!
Check out the steps and exercises below to build your stress resilience. The best way to use the simple exercises that follow is use them regularly, even when you aren’t experience stress.
Science has proven that embodiment is the way you build the ability to recover from stress much more readily when it happens.
By the way, these exercises are intentionally designed to be simple, so that your brain and body can easily integrate them.
Step 1: Know your Stress
Everyone experiences stress differently. It’s important that you become highly aware to the way your body experiences stress and the unique ways that it shows up for you. The only way to work with your stress is to first be sure that you know it well!
Embodiment Exercise to Know your Stress: Get paper and a pen. Next, take a comfortable seat where both your feet are on the floor and you’re sitting tall in your spine. Close your eyes. Bring a hand to your abdomen. Notice what your breathing is like. Write down anything you notice about your breathing (is it short? tight? constricted? something else?). Then, notice what body sensations you’re experiencing (where are you tensing your body? your face? is your belly churning? where do you notice any kind of sensation? describe the sensations.). Next, notice what thoughts are running through your mind and notice how your mind is moving (fast, slow, distracted, focused). Write them down. Next, notice your emotions (are you frustrated? joyful? angry? sad? excited? fearful?). Write them down. For the next several instances when you feel stress, do this exercise. Then, compare notes. This will give you useful wisdom about how your stress tends manifest inside you. Although it’s always shifting, your defaults will probably be similar.
Step 2: Know your Triggers
What really sets off your stress? Once you know the situations that trigger your stress response the most, you can prepare better for them by practicing embodiment. Sometimes, you can avoid these stressful situations all together, but avoidance isn’t the best way to build strength in dealing with stress…and it’s just not practical.
Interesting fact: Studies show that the best way to build stress resilience is to practice embodiment in short bursts throughout the day, no matter if you are or aren’t in the depths of stress. This wires the tools into your body and brain for those times when the going gets tough!
Step 3: Embrace your Stress
It may sound woo-woo or weird to embrace your stress, but it’s important to learn how to welcome your stress, instead of fighting it. This welcoming and awareness offers great peace, health and ease in every way. Learn about the many benefits of befriending your stress in this fascinating Ted Talk.
The most stressful part of stress can often be the resistance to the stress!
Remember mild and mid-level stress is your teacher for building healthy resilience in all the systems of your being. Instead of avoiding it or tampering it, you can build a body and brain that receives stress in healthy ways.
Embodiment Exercise to Embrace your Stress: Use embodied mindfulness to increase befriend your stress. One simple, proven way to do this is through your connective tissue. Get 2 tennis or racquet balls. While laying down, place them directly under your trapezius muscles (just behind where your neck connects to your upper back, s – this is where most people hold a lot of tension). Close your eyes and breathe. Notice all the sensations that arise, without needing to change them and without judging them. You are going for sensation, but not intense deep muscle sensation. For connective tissues, studies show that the brain doesn’t change from intense physical feeling but rather less is more. The brain needs enough where you can bring all of your presence to it and breathe normally. If your breathing is labored or you are heavily tensing in any areas of your body, you aren’t getting the benefits of embodiment or stress resilience. If you need more sensation, try moving your arms up toward the ceiling, bending your knees and placing your feet on the ground to gently rock forward and backward or try lifting your hips. Move slowly and notice the experience from the inside of your body. You can stop whenever you feel you are complete. Trust your brain and body to know.
Step 4: Amp up your Self-Embodiment
Seek out ways to ground yourself. When stress shows up, most people tend to scurry, scatter, and strain. Here are some other effective ways you can try: sit and breathe with your eyes closed while paying 100% attention to the experience of breath moving in an out of you; lay down on your back and put something lightly weighted (a book or pillow) on your chest or belly and notice the sensations; take a mindful walk; take a slow-moving yoga class where you are especially mindful of the experience of breath moving through your body and keenly attuned to the transitions of each pose.
Step 5: Remind Yourself
It’s easy to get wrapped up in what’s happening and fear that things will never change. Remind yourself that we are constantly changing. Life is constantly changing. You are not going to feel like this forever! Getting present to your body is the absolute best proven way to ground yourself, heal yourself and free yourself of physical and emotional pain.
You can begin to transform your relationship with stress in powerful ways by using these tools as a starter to rewiring your brain in its response to stress.
Want to take a deeper dive how to control your stress levels for a more profound and lasting change? Try the 14-day self-paced Stress Less Reset that includes audio guided embodied mindfulness exercises, thought-provoking reflection questions and lots of concrete tools ($25).
P.S. Wondering how in tune you are with you mind-body connection? Take the free Mind-Body IQ quiz here. Wondering where others are that are similar to you? Join us in the free, private MindBodyWise Living Room group on Facebook!