When stress infiltrates my body, it takes my gut hostage first. Sometimes it appears as a tightening sensation, pinching my neck, and then crawling to my lower back before transforming into pulsating aches all over. On particularly nerve-racking days, tension takes refuge in my joints or the sides of my head.
Due to the everyday pressures of my daily grind and an onslaught of tragedies, including two deaths in my family; a terrorist attack in the city I grew up in; and the senseless killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by law enforcement; I feel like a walking wound.
For some folks, stress makes a more tacit presence before it strikes. But for me, my body’s response to threats to my sense of equilibrium will nag until I address them with love and care. In most cases, the discomfort of the pain, anxiety, or fatigue I’m experiencing is a sign that I need to pause and pay attention.
As someone living with a chronic illness, I know firsthand the depletion that pent-up hurt, stuck energy, and unaired frustration can cause. It is stifling, and only gets worse when left unaddressed. Stress is a normal part of life and isn’t inherently bad. It’s simply our body’s reaction and adaptation to shifts in our environment. But when its symptoms are acute, chronic, and viciously cyclical, our bodies bear the burden. That’s why taking steps to course-correct when we feel the signs of our frenemy, stress, coming our way is critical.
As Danielle LaPorte, one of my favorite motivational authors, said in one of the #truthbombs she posted on Instagram and her website, “Your body knows before your mind does.” Her explanation sums it up: The body just feels. It doesn’t have a filter of judgments or worry. Something happens and then wham-boom-woosh, INSTANT feeling. INSTANT. Hits your gut, makes you blush, hairs stand on end, heart races, flush.
In a culture that encourages us to “suck it up” and repress our hurt, and both encourages and rewards overexertion, it’s tempting to push ourselves beyond our limit. But it almost never comes without a physical impact. Here’s some ways I release tension in my body when times are tough to promote healing. Next time pressure, stress, and strain starts, you could try to:
Get to know your triggers.
In order to make our personal plan to alleviate stress, we have to understand what sets it off. Take time at the end of the day for a week to journal about what factors ignite anxiety and discomfort in your life.
Write down if you’ve felt unease when you had to skip a meal or eat late. Think about how you felt if you had an argument with a friend or family member. Process whether and how you felt pain or anxiety in your body after experiencing unearned critique from a parent, teacher, or a boss. Did your heart race? Did your stomach hurt? Taking stock of what activates your stress response will help you determine what kind of resources you’ll need to avoid your triggers or manage them better in the future.
Listen to your body and breathe.
Lay flat in a sleeping pose, close your eyes, and observe your body quietly for five minutes. Notice where tightness exists and breathe with a focus on that area of the body. Try using this cool gif as a visual model for how to sync your breathing. Once you have an awareness of where your tension lies, you could try relaxing with gentle yoga breathing techniques and movement.
Feel it out.
Tightness and strain can result in knots and pain in your muscles. Practicing self-massage provides quick comfort, alleviates soreness, and it’s free. Since I feel my stress most in my stomach, I practice self-care by giving myself abdominal massages almost every day.
For me, one of the fastest and most fun ways to relieve stress is to do jumping jacks, or to hop on my mini-trampoline and jump to my Beyoncé playlist. Releasing endorphins has a calming effect, and it allows us to feel the sensation of weightlessness during burdensome times.
Taking a hot shower or a relaxing bath (if you have the time) can provide a quick sense of healing relief and help alleviate soreness. You could try soaking in a mix of water, sea or Epsom salt, and lavender oil for an extra soothing effect.
It seems simple, but it is possible to sip our way to relaxation. Since dehydration can increase our cortisol stress hormone levels, drinking water has a restorative effect.
What ways do you move your body to heal? You hold the key. Listen to your intuition and do just that. If you feel inspired, share with other Rooks so they can try it, too. ♦
Do you have a question or suggestion for the next edition of Club Thrive? Please send them to [email protected] in an email that includes your NAME, CITY, and AGE.