Stress has been given a bad name over the years. We blame it for poor health, bad relationships and what ever else isn’t working. The stress response can be harmful and cause havoc in our lives, but it is more of a messenger then a culprit. When stress sends our bodies a massage, there’s an opportunity to listen to it and make changes.
Stress is a Messenger
One problem is we often don’t hear the message until it is too late, and we have diabetes, extra weight, etc. An0ther difficulty with our relationship with stress is we can hyper focus on it and be full of anxiety. Many of us are good at doing both of these together, unable to hear the message because we are being overwhelmed by all the data.
When Managing Stress Stops working
There is a time for managing stress. It is very helpful to find strategies to stop the stresses from running our life’s. Most of us know some of the basics for managing our stress. Exercise, eating a balanced diet, and having time to rest are all important in managing stress. Somehow when life gets hard we throw all of these out the window. Frequently we say I don’t have enough time to do all that and the strategies for managing stress become a stressor. At this point all we can do is put our nose to the grindstone and get through our to-do list and then maybe we can rest afterwards. How often have you done this and gotten sick or sabotaged another part of your life? I’ve done it more times then I’d like to admit.
How I befriend stress
Even though I know the skills of stress management I don’t always use them, or more accurately I can’t always access them. Sometimes I’m triggered and I just can’t find how to act in a healthy way. This is where befriending stress comes in, finding kindness for myself in those moments when I become judgmental of myself. I start by shifting my attention from the thoughts of all the ways I could have done it differently to placing my attention in the present moment and looking for kindnesses.
I’ve learned over the years that I can’t jump from judging myself to being kind in one big jump. There are some small steps that can be very helpful. The main one I use is sensory awareness, which gets me into a more neutral space and opens up my senses to new possibilities. With sensory awareness I start using all of my senses to observe the world around me. This can look like me noticing the deep green of the plant in the corner or the feeling of the chair I’m sitting on. As I shift my focus to my sensations the grip on the thoughts that were driving me loosens, and I start to befriend the experience I was just resisting.
Befriending stress does takes practice
Switching your focus from thoughts to sensations takes practice for it to be accessible in times of need. ‘Befriending Stress’ is a phrase I have embraced because it means a commitment to showing up and being kind to yourself. What does it look like to practice befriending stress? Practicing could be taking 10 minutes to pay attention to your breath or listen to the sounds around you and noticing how your thoughts come and go as you do this. This sounds very simple but most people have a hard time staying with it by themselves. Having time where you practice with a group and have light instruction can make all the difference.