As I sit here at 6:30 in the morning, drinking my first cup of tea I wonder why still I am woken early by tension and anxiety. Surely I have read widely and sat in meditation enough so that I would have some insight into and indeed responses to its happening.
Am I not aware of it and am I not informed as to why my body is racked with acute and scary discomfort? I have the ‘data’ to be logical, yet it still has its claws in me mind and body.
The reason, I am starting to understand is that emotionally I have not allowed the tension and anxiety to fully work its way through me. I know what triggers it and I know the physiological response my body produces when I am subject to it. However, I have not allowed my mind to emotionally fully let it through the door of ’emotional intuition’. I still sit here with the following symptoms, not allowing myself to connect, indeed enter the place where deep emotional intuition resides. A bit like a night club bouncer allowing the wrong people in. What’s happening is a bunch of unruly youths have been allowed to enter the party. What’s happening physically is the following:
– Dry mouth
– Racing mind
– Tight shoulders
– Tight chest
– Sore eyes
– Fidgeting feet
– Loose bowels
The list is by no means exhaustive and it is certainly not exclusive to me. All of the above are physiology responses to stress and they are automatic. They can be reduced, but they can’t all be stopped and really they shouldn’t. They should be engaged with and connected to; fully.
For someone who is emotionally sensitive to their own body, it can be quite a scary thing in itself to have your body assaulted in such a way. It’s like being surrounded by that gang of lads who having being turned away from the nightclub now decide to gate crash a dinner party. A prim and proper, well dressed, gathering being descended upon by a bunch of uncouth yobs. The contrast between rational and irrational mind is quite stark. There is a weird sense of disconnection, between what is known to be true and what is currently happening. Sight, sound, smell and emotion all slightly blurred and fuzzy. A peaceful world turned upside down by unexpected and indeed unwanted visitors. That’s stress manifest.
However, the sensations and physical responses that you feel are quite natural, it may be that you are simply seeing them from a position of surprise. They are automatic and triggered by the brain whenever it senses a situation that it deems threatening. The skill to try and come to terms with it is unfolding.
Firstly, you need to bring a sense of mindful awareness to the situation. A presence that allows you to see what is going on. You have to create a space between the trigger and the response. The body will go into its ‘automatic’ mode, no matter whether so see the trigger clearly in your ‘head’ and you see it in a rational way. If the underlying ‘fear’ is not in your present awareness then the body will connect direct to the fear, circumventing rational mind.
Secondly, the aim is also to try and see it as it is occurring. Be aware of stress in the body as the body is responding to the trigger but also be aware of the trigger itself, how is looks, feels, and mentally manifests itself etc. If you can, it is best to try and capture the trigger in your awareness before it occurs, but that isn’t always easy. The trigger is the trigger whether you see it off in the distance or it taps you on the shoulder from behind.
Another key approach is to see the trigger AND response by not turning away from it or ignoring it. This is important as you won’t be able to start to come to terms with the stress response if you run or hide. See it fully and allow it to happen. You can’t stop it.
Finally, you need to feel it, taste it, touch it, experience it in a 360 degree way. Emotional responses to triggered systems are bio-emotional responses that are fuelled by itself. What fuels the continuation of the stress response itself? Stress of stress. Fear of stress. Lack of connection to it especially if you don’t feel it fully (and this may not always be easy) will keep rolling and some times for quite some time. Here’s and example:
– I see a spider. It’s in my proximity.
– In my mind I don’t like spiders, they are leggy fast things that run and jump around.
– The body starts to tense and some of the responses (listed above) start to trigger.
– In my mind I start to make this a spider 10ft tall and full of big eyes and nasty teeth.
– I run out of the room.
Now the reality is that the spider was smaller than my thumbnail. It was 3 meters away in the corner and it was in no way a threat to me.
The fear however generates a physical response and I reacted with an emotional and some would say irrational response. The response to what I saw and the idea it was a threat was threat enough to trigger the automatic physical stress reasons, even though it wasn’t really a threat. No matter what rationality was there, I didn’t see nor fully immerse myself in the emotional response of the rational mind and I allowed automatic response to take over. The flight response to occurred . The rational mind, for that moment was disconnected and the automatic fear response was allowed to enter the party and smash the plates, drink the wine and be sick in the corner.
In order to stop this occurring the ‘pause’ of mindful awareness is a fundamental technique for calming the mind and for allowing rationalisation of the situation to occur. in order to deal with the situation as best as you can, you need to look at what is occurring with a rational mind and this won’t occur if you are triggered and reactive. Only in the ‘eye’ of the storm can an honest assessment of the situation occur and then positive and perhaps alternative action taken.
Next time you find yourself in a stress situation and your mind is racing. Your body is flushed with adrenaline and you are sweating, shaking and dry of mouth. Pause. Stop and look at what is causing your fear and see if you can see the space between the trigger and the response. It won’t occur immediately and it will take practice, practice, practice.
However, through 10 min’s mindfulness and meditation, you can start to see the gaps more clearly. We are rational and yet reactive creatures. We are mind and emotion in one package, to deny either side of this means that we are not living in our lives with wholeness. It is possible to live and react reasonably to stress but like anything it takes practice, focus and an openness to the possibilities that well versed, rote responses may not be the best.