stress is not your friend

by mary grace allerdice

It can seem like we are all interacting through a veil of stress and anxiety.

How are you? Busy.
How’s it going? So much going on.
How are you feeling? Overwhelmed...Tired...Stressed.

From our first-person perspective, this veil is so thin we almost forget to notice how tired (stressed, overwhelmed) we are until someone asks us how we are. How am I? The stress has been there so long we think it is just part of our personality and identity. From a young age we had to get out the door on time, perform well, not get in trouble, stay on top of our homework, ace our activities, figure out what we want, succeed at everything, make sure we don’t fail at anything ever and try not to be late.

Would we even recognize ourselves without our stress? The stress-veil is thin. We can see through it. But it is very heavy.

I promise you, the person you are trying to become is behind that veil. Stress is an obstacle to our intimacy, to abundance, to a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment.

And, unfortunately, it’s only a small percentage about managing our circumstances. Though, I will be the first to argue some purging of excess + healthy boundaries can go a long way. It is impossible to control our external environment to such an extent that we eradicate all tension from our lives.  Life is messy, unpredictable. In a word, stressful.

We can’t change life, but we can get more skilled at how we’re living. It’s less about managing the world and more about managing ourselves. It’s about eradicating the veil of worry and fear that has our personalities and our gifts enshrouded and imprisoned. Yes, sometimes our circumstances are out of control. But it is also that all of our external circumstances and relationships are being experienced through the sieve of stress that is like a forcefield around us.

In some instances, I realized that I have used my stress to feel important, valuable, validated, deserving. When I realized all the kids in middle school were super busy and also more popular than I was, I realized I had to figure out how to be busier so that I, too, could be more seen and (in my teenage perception) more valuable. In reality, stress is stealing my energy, my time. Instead of adding value to my life and from my life it makes me exhausted, empty, with less and less to give. It blocks the world from experiencing the fullest expression of the amazingness of who I am, of who you are, of who we all are.

Stress should not be our medal of honor that we hold up to the world to show that we deserve to be here and to have. Our stress should be an occasional signal that pops up and let’s us know, hey… this needs your attention.

In some ways, stress is our primary cultural dis-ease. Why are we so afraid of ease that we lean away from it most of the hours of the day? I think if we could lean into it more I think we may find that there is a reservoir of strength, vitality and creativity that is completely unavailable while the stress-veil rules..

How much cruelty is occasioned simply because of the noise that is within us: the din is too great to realize exactly what we are doing to others, or what is being done to others in our name. Thus an offhand remark, which leaves us as easily as a breath and which we think no more of than a breath, cuts a friend to the quick. And thus a whole country can be organized toward some collective insanity because there is no space in individuals to think… Something is off. Life passes and we do not recognize it.  __Christian Wiman

Follow your day with your attention, where do you lean into stress? Where does the stress take over? What if you were to give yourself what you needed and approach the situation without the veil of stress? What if we could approach it less reactively.

Part of the benefit of these practices like yoga, meditation, pilates is that they re-teach our nervous systems that we can accomplish challenging and difficult things without stress. In fact, they are more successful and often easier if we approach them calmly, while breathing.

Achieving difficult things with ease
with clarity
with strength
with balanced effort
peace of mind.

What could our lives look like if we leaned into that?

It is time that the stone grew accustomed to blooming,
That unrest formed a heart.
__Paul Celan

Tools + Exercises

  • Look at your routines. What is a regular obligation, duty, task, habit or happening in your life that brings you no joy or fulfillment? Identify 2-3 things. Take a step towards delegating it to someone else or detoxing it from your life.

  • Schedule white space. Look at your weekly or monthly schedule. Take your pen and actually schedule a 30-minute meeting with yourself. Leave it blank. This is not space for errands or catching up on emails. Preferably, it’s a technology-free meeting. Take the time to check in with yourself.  What do you need, want in that moment to approach yourself and your life with more clarity + peace. A meditation? Time to journal? A walk to the ice cream shop? Keep in mind this meeting may be in the morning or a spontaneously cancelled meeting.

  • Rasa - adaptogenic “coffee” that supports sustainable, calm energy. Start replacing some of your cups of joe with something nourishing (and delicious) for your body.

  • Balance - put 2-3 drops in your hands and hold over your nose. Cup your hands over your nose and take some deep breaths. Rub on your inner wrists and your feet. This oil is a blend of trees + their roots. It is calming to the nervous system and has a grounding effect on the body + mind.

  • Lavender - apply to the back of the neck, throat, inner wrists, sternum. Give yourself a massage at the tops of your shoulders. In addition to being an immunity boost, this oil support healthy skin and is soothing to the senses.

  • Square breathing - Sit comfortably and sit tall. Close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you. Inhale through your nose for 4 counts. Hold your breath for 4 counts. Exhale through your nose for 4 counts. Hold the breath out for 4 counts. Repeat for 1-5 minutes.