“ His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There’s vomit on his sweater already; mom’s spaghetti ” Yep, I just quoted Eminem. I didn’t do that just because I like this song, like, A LOT (admit it ; you cannot just casually sing this song, you have to yell it...), but also, because it quite graphically and unapologetically exposes some of the physical symptoms of my good friend ; #stress.
It is common knowledge that stress induces more or less intense physiological responses in the body ; heart rate accelerating, sweatiness, heightening of blood pressure, release of certain hormones such as cortisol, just to name a few. These responses are meant to activate the fight or flight reaction, aka, I start running super fast because a tiger is chasing me. But, what happens if this chain reaction is activated (too) often, for a (too) long period of time when, for example, I am just lying there, thinking about the end of the world?
Well, the heart rate might just end up getting stuck up high at all times. And the cortisol level in my body might be peaking all the time. And, maybe, when I am 50, I might just die from a heart attack. Of course, this is just a hypothetical scenario… I just want to express how important it is to take care of our annoying roommate living in the cupboard under the stairs (yeah, that’s stress), before it is too late. Before it invades the entire house and causes irreparable damages.
When we notice a nasty tap on the cupboard door, and overwhelming feelings start to take over our mind, our body and even our soul, here is a simple method to catch it in the act, and return to a calmer state of being : observe it. Or, if you prefer ; notice, see, acknowledge, watch or take note of it. In other words, refrain from making up a whole dramatic or sad or scary story about the stressful feeling and its object.
Here is how to become the observer of our stress :
1. When we feel the stress symptoms (which can be different from person to person) coming up, we pause everything.
2. We find a comfortable place to sit down quietly.
3. Then, we close our eyes and begin by noticing the breath. We draw all our attention to just the inhales and the exhales.
4. Now, we start observing the sensations in our body, like we were experiencing them for the first time.
5. Perhaps we could ask ourselves some questions : “ What are the sensations in my body? ” or “ How is my breathing right now? ” or “ What am I feeling inside right now? ”.
6. Afterwards, we can try to answer these questions by only stating facts, for example : “ I feel my heart beating fast. ” or “ I feel a heavy sensation in my stomach.” or “ I feel super warm . ” No need to add commentaries or judgments. We simply notice.
7. When we’re done taking mental notes, we can take a few deep breaths and watch the sensations receding, or at least diminishing.
8. We are the observer of our stress, not the participant.
More often than not, when we become the observer, stress cannot live much longer. When we refrain from diving right into the mud puddle of stress and begin to spin around in it, it is quite easy to transform it into a clearer and quieter water lagoon. Moreover, it drags us directly into the present moment, where stress cannot really live on. This method is easy to practice pretty much anywhere at anytime, whether at work, in the bus or at home and it can take as few as 5 minutes.
So, breathe in, breathe out, observe, smile.
Let me know how it went for you!