Our responses to stress are designed for quick physical action and quick release. But, these ongoing autonomic responses can lead to what we presently known as stress-related illnesses, including:
Without an active plan to help curb the frequency, intensity or release of tension, we become more susceptible to these conditions. Of course, physical exercise is a great tension reliever, but mindfulness offers us more hope in some unique ways.
Mindfulness practice helps us work directly with the signals that send the body into fight, flight or freeze. By strengthening our ability to pause and choose, mindfulness helps us evaluate a potentially threatening situation more accurately giving us more freedom to choose an appropriate response.
For example, tuning into our surroundings and purposefully relaxing when we notice ourselves responding to a non-threatening situation with a stress response is a way of shifting and releasing the body's automatic response. It begins with mindfully noticing where we actually are--looking at sights, listening to sounds, feeling our hands and feet, noticing our breath. Use this as an opportunity to assure yourself that you are physically safe at this moment. Take a few deep breaths to elicit the relaxation response and if it's appropriate, bring your hands to your heart and belly. Think of a few reassuring phrases that would let you know you are okay and silently and lovingly repeat them to yourself. This loving awareness begins a natural letting go and our conscious intention for relaxing cultivates and ongoing undoing of the stress and tension.
This conscious gentle mindful attention interrupts the habit of response, shifting the chemical bath, and opens us to the loving wisdom available from a heart and mind at rest--allowing us greater access to choose our next steps.
How do you know when you're stressed? What happens in YOUR body?
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom