What does stress feel like actually?

We know when we are stressed, right? We have all said many times: 'Oh I'm so stressed'. But what does stress feel like in your body? Or in your mind? How do you actually know you are stressed?

You might know by how you behave:

  • Crankiness
  • Rushed
  • No time for breaks

You might know by sensations in your body:

  • Tension: where do you feel that? How big is that area?
  • Pain: does your back hurt, or your head? Do you have problems with your stomach?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping?

Or perhaps by the way you think:

  • Do you have many negative thoughts?
  • Do you have thoughts that cause fear?

And what is your strategy when you are stressed? Are you trying to get everything under control (fight)? Or do you start avoiding things (flight)? Do you start complaining?

We are not going to fix stress right now. We are just going to observe. To get very familiar with how stress works in us. Thoughts, emotions, sensations, behaviour. And we are observing it as it happens, in the here and the now. Of course our mind can start to analyse all of this and start figuring out strategies to get rid of the stress. Observe this mechanism of the mind as well. Be curious. You haven’t seen all the details yet. Be an explorer.

Can you observe the resistance? Can you hear the little voice that says: “I have no time for this”. Even if you are mindful for one minute, you have succeeded. And you can have as many of these successful moments as you choose. It will get easier to stay in observational mode with practice. Don’t worry.

Okay, you might say, but how will being aware of my stress help me? It will help you by bypassing your autopilot. Your autopilot will send you down the road of all your familiar stress reactions. But when you are aware of how your body-mind system responds to stressors, you will have a moment of choice. Will you respond like you always have and go down the road of more stress? Or will you choose a different response. Like consciously relaxing your body, taking a break, taking a few deep breaths, saying no instead of yes, speaking up for yourself in an assertive way, leaving a toxic situation, etc. Any response that will give you a feeling of relaxation, of peace, however small, will be a gain compared to the initial, unmindful response.

If you would like to read an example of how this helps me personally in dealing with stress, have a look at this post.

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