While we wired for stress, we also wired to relax. What can you cultivate in your life to feel more at ease?

The power of a pause allows you to slow down and to respond to life’s ups and downs. A deep breath can give just enough space to activate the neural networks in the brain that allow for reflection, connection and wise action.

I’m so grateful you are listening along. I think most of us know when we’re stressed out and probably can relate to the idea of hitting “reset” when things have gone awry – and not just a nice notion when January 1 rolls around.

But hitting reset regularly can be hard to do. I learned the hard way.

I may be older and wiser but there are things that happen now that make me laugh, like I’ve got an inside joke. 

For instance, I will get a comment from someone, “Tara, you’re so calm. “Oh, your voice is soothing,”  “Wow, you’re good in a stressful situation.”

 I think to myself: WTF! 

“Calm” is never how I’d describe myself. You’ll have to listen to see why.

You can reset your stress

We all know by now that chronic stress leads to wear and tear in the body.  The mental and emotional effects of ongoing stress can be painful too. It’s hard to focus and concentrate, and you might even get mad at yourself about not feeling up for life’s demands. And, it is harder to feel kind or compassionate.

If you are living in a state of chronic stress, you are not alone. 

The American Psychological Association reports that stress levels are at an unprecedented high. Even so, there is a lot you can do to remedy it without overhauling your lifestyle, and it begins by noticing the effects of stress AND relaxation in your body.

Today’s Skill

Think about your typical stress reaction. Bring something mild or moderately stressful to mind, like a daily hassle. Answer some questions:

  • What’s the very first sign of stress?
  • Where do you feel stress or tension in your body? 
  • What emotions do you feel? 
  • What happens to your thinking? 
  • How do you behave?
  • And here’s a good one:  how can others tell you are stressed?

Now that you have some idea how your body’s alarm system works, and can identify how you experience stress, you are more empowered. As some say, “What you feel, you can heal.” 

We can learn to balance out the typical stress response by intentionally engaging our internal calm and connect system. It soothes you, and it aids resting, processing experience, and refreshing—physically, mentally, and emotionally. You can encourage it.

Being aware and skillful about managing your own stress breaks the SPEL and naturally makes you a kinder person.

Compassionate Body Scan

  • Please find a comfortable position, with your back supported, allowing your hands to rest along your sides or gently in your lap.  
  • You may also consider placing one or two hands over your heart or another soothing place… it might be folding your arms gently across your chest, or resting  your chin on your hand,  and simply doing this as a reminder to bring kindfulness to your body.
  • Noticing what your body is like right now. What are you sensing in your body? 
  • Perhaps taking a few breaths to breathe into that part of the body, 
  • or toward the whole energy field of the body, welcoming it into this moment, and appreciating all that it carries.
  • Take several slow inhales and exhales, and then returning your hands and arms to your sides or lap, if you prefer.
  • See if you can sense your whole being with care, directing attention from head-to-toe in a gentle sweep. Up and down, back and forth.
  • You decide if  you want to start with your head, or with your toes.
  • And know that if you feel a sense of ease and calm in a particular area, simply have some appreciation and gratitude for that part of your body.
  • Or, if you notice tension and have judgment or uncomfortable emotions toward a body part, as we all have our hang-ups,  see if you can allow yourself to soften towards that part of your body, even placing a hand there, as a gesture of compassion or kindness.
  • And if any area of your body feels too charged to linger on, simply move your attention to somewhere else that is physically neutral, allowing this meditation to be as comfortable as possible. 
  • When you’ve noticed that your mind has wandered, as it will, just returning to the sensations in the part of the body that you were attending to. 
  • Simply allowing this process to be gentle or even playful, perhaps using the sounds of Ooohh or Ahhh.
  • Consider acknowledging any area that feels relaxed and sending some love.
  • Noticing any areas that can feel challenging, or may be an area you are critical about. 
  • Be kind and gentle, even using an encouragement mantra or self kindness phrase. “I am enough.” “All is well at this moment.” “I honor my body no matter what it feels like.”
  • Now rest your attention on the front of heart, perhaps imagining the strength and courage emanating from this area, which holds the oscillating organs of the heart and lungs and pumps energy.
  • Acknowledge how this area fuels the ebb and flow of the life force giving rise to our internal rhythms as we breathe, and syncs naturally with the sounds of lullabies and songs. 
  • Now directing attention to the behind the heart space, and upper back. Imagining, if you like, a strong back and an open heart, and appreciating our exquisite emotional radar system connecting our head to heart and all reaches of the body, and seeks to find balance. 
  • Also appreciating how this area signals to you when feeling threatened, and provides such important information. 
  • Perhaps with gratitude to your brain and body, giving a final sweep of appreciation, caring, respect, and compassion.  ‘

You may release this meditation and gently open your eyes if they are closed, or simply re-orienting yourself to your surroundings.  A body scan meditation is a nice one to do at bedtime.

You can explore longer versions of it online or in apps, like on Insight Timer, where I have a meditation called “Befriending the  Body.”

Today’s affirmation is: While I’m wired for stress, I’m also wired to relax. What can I cultivate in my life to feel more at ease?

Reference: American Psychological Association, (Oct 2021), Stress in America, Press Release