Stress has become a tirelessly discussed subject. We’ve all had our fair share of experiencing stress and need no more convincing on how harmful it can be on our health. But do we really know how stress affects our sense of self?
On days wherein thoughts splinter into a million directions and the pressures of life burn you out, we often resort to throwing ourselves in some mindless form of exercise, activity or nothing at all. People say ‘rest’ is a key factor in combating stress. But what if rest doesn’t come easy to you? Even in bed, we fiddle with gadgets, comb through books, dilly dally with our own ways of counting sheep just to get the proverbial mind switch to power off. When we’re in a continued state of heightened awareness and hyperactivity there’s no turning the body off even when you want a little shut-eye. The less you sleep the more energy you lose. Hence, the more stress you accrue. As chronic fatigue sets in our senses are dulled and we start to become more indifferent about caring for our health. This indifference when prolonged often leads to neglect towards our wellbeing. When we don’t care for ourselves better we lose sight of ourselves and surroundings. More often than not, it’s only after a lengthy period of time has passed that you realize you’ve let things fester and deteriorate.
So is there a way to escape this vicious cycle and regain our health and sense of self? Yes, and sometimes the remedy in dealing with stress is not in the ‘doing’ but more in the ‘being’. Not everything can be accomplished with actionable 1-2-3 steps all the time. It starts with accepting that there’s no crash course or shortcuts to wellness. And just like with any living organism, it requires that you nurture the seed of self with ample time, energy and nourishment. Much like yoga, it requires a balanced connection of the Mind, Body and Heart. Discover what truly motivates these different pillars and acknowledge the obstacles and barriers you set up. So be true and get real. It’s okay to admit that fear and anxiety exist, because, they sprout within you for a reason. What’s important is to not kowtow or cling to these emotions and forget everything else. It’s also important to be reminded that stress is borne of an intrinsic response to survival.
The stress response moves us to Fight, Flight or Freeze during crucial times. In prehistoric times, the stress response on a physiological level evolved by learning to cope with life threatening situations like facing dangerous animals or elements. We needed that sudden burst of energy and focus in dire straits. In modern times, it seems the stress response has devolved because we have become accustomed to readying ourselves to react to anything and everything even without imminent danger. Or at times, we battle a perceived sense of danger to our emotional and
mental well being. It’s why we have become more apprehensive of what we can’t control and in return, a lot more scrupulous about wanting more control. This has conditioned us to believe that we have to get the most out of our time, situation, everything, which drives us to do more and rest a lot less.
‘Carpe diem’ isn’t purely about enjoying the present moment while throwing all caution to the wind. One has to learn the dynamics of Past, Present and Future. To borrow the terms of the stress response at the nervous system level, 1) Don’t ‘Fight’ what’s happened in the past. 2) Don’t ‘Flee’ from the discomfort of the present moment. 3) Don’t ‘Freeze’ in fear of the unknown future. Accept the ‘past self’, learn to love being your ‘present self’ and allow the ‘future self’ to unfold without recrimination or bloated expectations.
There are a lot of references from the approaches of meditation and yoga that we can extract and apply. Without inflating the ego, it’s important to instill self-belief and confidence in order to build a caring relationship with yourself, as well as a functional relationship with stress. If you fall out of it, dust yourself off and get back up again.
Rina Nakayama teaches Stress Free Gentle Flow, Restorative and kids yoga classes in Urban Ashram Yoga. She is also certified in Yin Yoga and Thai Yoga Massage. Her caring and nurturing nature has students coming back to her relaxing yet strength building classes.