Jill Bolte- Taylor
"The sore pressure or strain of adversity, trouble, hunger, sickness, pain, or sorrow; anguish or affliction affecting the body, spirit, or community."
I like this definition for many reasons. It honours this phenomenon of stress, elevating it to distress. We often fob off the experience of
Our very adaptive biological stress response is designed to keep us safe from danger - dangers that might threaten our lives. For most of us in Sydney today, our stressors are often not life-threatening but things that feel important. Perhaps getting the kids to school on time so that we can get to work on time. Or being anxious about what others might think of us when we speak up in a crowd. The brain can have the same response for real or imagined danger.
I have a very lucky life. I have work that that is satisfying, and I am loved and supported. Yet it is the act of “getting these lucky things done” that can feel stressful. There are elderly parents to care for, children to help grow, work, cooking, shopping, cleaning, and relationships to sustain. Each of these things can be satisfying and each must be done.
Sometimes the extra thing, “ a broken down car, the pressure at work, illness in the family or a death of a friend can overfill the cup of ordinary busyness and tip me into stress reactivity.
When the busyness cup is overfull, I find it easy to slip into a "checklist mode of life", ticking off what has been done and losing track of life as it happens.
This way of pushing through life can be efficient and habitual. We become problem-focussed, narrowing our field of vision, seeing just the task at hand and missing things in life that may be more pleasant and flavoursome.
We can just stop seeing these tender things - even when they are there.
And when we try to slow down it may feel uncomfortable.
I often feel the stress in my body and notice my agitation. Have you ever had the experience of getting a headache….when you finally slow down? Going on that long-awaited holiday….and being agitated for the first couple of days. It can be tempting to keep going rather than unwinding.
Whilst distraction can help in the short term, I find it is worth paying attention to my signs of stress - the muscles tightening, the narrow urgent feeling. This awareness is a friend that allowed me to care for myself, to catch stress reactivity earlier and to slow down for myself rather than push through.
There are many pathways to self-care. Have you noticed how everything can feel shinier after exercise? How social engagement, a heart to heart with a loved one or even a surprise interaction with a stranger can leave you feeling uplifted and shake you out of tunnel vision.
Having a practice means that I commit to jumping off the treadmill and to touching base with my inner experience on a regular basis. I commit to doing this with a friendly and compassionate attitude. I imagine that I am sitting down with a dear friend, turning towards them and saying, “ok, what’s going on”. I don’t always want to do this, but it is always worthwhile. It’s good for slowing down. It helps me notice the joys of life and helps me orientate towards, accept what is narrowing my attention and find an intentional way to respond.
Mindfulness meditation is not a panacea, it doesn’t make what is hard go away but it does slow things down and offers an opportunity for awareness and fresh perspectives, I find that engaging in a regular practice translates to being more mindful in daily life, providing a much richer life than a checklist perspective.