Author’s note: I had intended to post this last week but I ran into a little problem which led to a little stress so I had to take my own advice! I hope you’ll enjoy reading that post to help you see how to put the strategy below into action.
When you’re experiencing stress, your impulse might be to power through, freak out, or stick your head in the sand (procrastinating, eating, drinking – you get the idea). As we’ve all noticed, behaviors such as busyness, overworking, smoking, overeating, drinking alcohol to excess, isolation, and taking our frustration out on others, perpetuate the stress reaction.
Instead of trying to escape what you are experiencing, pause and take a few deep breaths. Do a slow head to toe scan (see Body-Mind-Heart Scan in chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat). Become aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, how your body is reacting, and what you’re doing as a result without judging it. Just observe what is there.
There are physical, mental, and emotional sources of stress. Some of these are universally stressful-such as the loss of a loved one or the risk of bodily harm-whereas others are uniquely stressful to the individual.
Physical – Sources of physical stress include fatigue, poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, lack of physical activity, illness, pain, and others. Not only are these stressful on your body, they can leave you more susceptible to stress from other sources.
Thoughts – Remember the Thought-Feeling-Action-Result cycle (TFAR)? (Chapters 4 and 18 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.) The experience of stress is often triggered by a thought. In other words, stress frequently results from your perception and interpretation of life’s events.
Therefore, whether an event is stressful is often dependent on the individual. For instance, to one person, just the thought of speaking in public will cause a pounding heart, dry throat, and inability to utter a word, while to another person (me!), it is an exciting opportunity to get one’s views across. In other words, one (wo)man’s stress is another (wo)man’s pleasure!
However, until you pause to become aware of your thoughts, you may not be aware of that they are the source of your stress. Are any of these familiar?
- “I’ll be late!””
- “I feel like everything is out of control!”
- “I have to get this perfect.”
- “Why did I say (or do) that?”
- “How could that happen?”
- “I want everyone to like me.”
- “I have too much to do!”
- “I shouldn’t eat this.”
- “Why did I eat that?”
- “What will they think?”
- “I am not good enough.”
- “It’s not fair!”
- “I have to be right.”
- “I can do it all, have it all, and be it all!”
Note that most of these thoughts are about the past or the future, not about the present moment. That’s important because you have absolutely no control over the past or the future. But you can control what you think about right now.
Emotional – As you explore your feelings, you may notice boredom, loneliness, anger, frustration, happiness, and myriad other emotions. Emotions provide information so practice noticing what you’re feeling without judging it.
It’s important to respect your own personal strengths and limitations and use self-compassion when you are experiencing stress: “I’m feeling overwhelmed and tense. I can’t do everything on my to do list; no one could, but I’m doing my best-and that will have to be good enough for now.”
When you accept the situation (and yourself) as it is in this moment, and just allow it to be, you won’t compound the stress response by overreacting to it. It’s like imagining yourself at the center of the tornado; you are calm and centered while everything whirls around you.