This blog looks at ideas around stress and connecting to our bodies. It sounds simple but as humans, we tend to spend so much time caught up in our thoughts, we can forget that we even have a body! James Joyce’s story of Mr Duffy illustrates this very well. Joyce writes “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body” and goes on to describe the ramifications of being disconnected like this.
Exercise and the pandemic
Many clients have come to me feeling overwhelmed and burned out. During the pandemic options to exercise have been very limited. Quite often, when we look at their current levels of exercise, they often see that they are no longer taking part in team sports, gym and fitness classes or swimming or running in ways they used to. And this alone is having a massive impact on how they feel.
If we all live our lives largely disconnected from our bodies we are also going to be pretty disconnected from our feelings, our thoughts, our emotions, our nervous systems, our five senses – in fact everything having to do with who we are. And if we are disconnected from ourselves then we are also disconnected from the world around us, including other people…a perplexing, stressful way to be. When we feel anxious, for example, taking a few moments just to notice WHERE our body is signalling that anxiety can be very helpful – (eg heart racing, shallow breathing, sweating, sickening feeling in gut). And asking ourselves; “What exactly is triggering these reactions in my body? Why am I going into fight or flight mode?” Much of the time, old patterns are being triggered and what is happening in the present is only a tiny percentage of what’s going on. Realising this can help to give us a sense of control.
How can I re-connect with my body?
See what works for you – we are all different! Many of these can be done invisibly and speedily even if you are in the company of others, at work or in a social situation:
- Any form of exercise from walking, gym workouts, dance, yoga, table tennis, team sports, even running up and down stairs a couple of times can help.
- Mindfulness and meditation – some people find it really helpful to deliberately take time out each day for a few minutes and listen to a meditation/relaxation CD. But mindfulness simply means “being aware” of your thoughts, your feelings and your behaviour, rather than on automatic pilot – so that you are able to have control and choices about how to respond.
- Slow down! When we get stressed we tend to speed up which makes us feel MORE stressed!
- Hand over the heart (or over tummy area)– sit quietly and just breathe gently into the area
- Grounding with the feet – pushing both feet into the floor as you sit on a chair, or standing and getting an awareness of your whole body from feet, legs, lower and upper body, head
- Clenching/relaxation – of hands and other muscle groups – clench fists as hard as you can for as long as it’s bearable then simply let go and feel the sense of relaxation in your body.
- Deepening, slowing down your breathing, practice 7/11 breathing – in for the count of 7, out for the count of 11. Imagine a balloon in your tummy area inflating as you breathe in, deflating as you breathe out.
- Box breathing: Breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath in for a count of 4, breathe out for 4 and pause for 4, before repeating the cycle. I love the solid square or box pattern of this.
- Saying “STOP” to yourself or practice the STOP gesture of putting up your arms and hands. You might also have a particular phrase you repeat to yourself such as “I can do this” or “I’m OK.
- Fire Breaks – Divide your day into three parts (from when you get going in the morning to when you relax and chill out in the evening. Each part will be around four hours. At the end of each four hour period take yourself out of whatever situation you find yourself in, go to the bathroom, round the back of the building, park the car in a layby etc and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for 5 minutes.
And..whatever works for you: Jumping into a cold shower or a long relaxing bath, a warm drink or a snack, a massage or acupuncture session, singing and humming, dancing, yoga, eating as well as you can and avoiding too much caffeine, alcohol, nicotine etc, walking barefoot, being in nature , listening to relaxing sounds, visualisations or music, being close to an animal – a pet cat or dog, smiling and laughing and just chilling out.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!