How do we feel it?
Although very individual, stress is something we have all experienced at some point, and a lot of the reactions we have are similar to what others around us feel as stress, too. We can experience a short moment of stress after which we relax, having solved the problem which caused it. However, stress can also stay there for a long time. The longer it stays, the less it is likely to go away, with the effect of feeling under pressure constantly, or as if you’ve forgotten something, having too much on your mind, go about things hastily and anxiously, feeling out of control ….and a long etc.
Stress does not only affect our minds, as many of us may think, it affects us on all levels, physically, mentally and emotionally. To say the truth, there is no one without the other, we are integral beings that function on all of these levels without a border between them. So when we think about how to resolve stressful situations sometimes we might not be looking in the right places. Simply trying to control our minds and actions does not resolve our problems in a comprehensive way. There are emotions that appear when we see and feel ourselves stuck in a situation that often come from way back in our past. These experiences are very often from our childhood and condition us today as adults and form part of our personality. To be able to make a real change in our reactions to stress we have to learn to find out about and to let go of these experiences, and that way make certain situations less stressful for us.
Some of us have been stressed for so long, we don’t even realise we are under constant pressure. We only feel the signs, when wellbeing or health issues like insomnia, migraine, digestive problems, high blood pressure or pains in different parts of the body call our attention. But still today, the most common thing is to take a pill or pain killer to stop what’s bothering us and to get back to work and to go on with our daily routine.
But, is that really the way we want to feel? Are we well and happy this way?
A significant aspect of stress are our emotions. Although above I said you cannot look at one of the aspects without looking at the other, lets just make it understandable by taking one of the most important aspects of ourselves. You might or you might not be aware of them, but emotions are the one aspect that leads our physiological and mental responses to stress and any other aspect of life. Our emotional health is directly linked to our physical and mental wellbeing and investigations in e.g. psychophysiology, show today, that emotions that get stuck and cannot be expressed properly do more harm to our physiological and neurological functioning than one may realise. We live in a society where emotions are looked upon as a weakness and that an adult person should not have or at least not show too many emotions, especially when they are "negative". These definitions are very wide spread and include a large number of "western" countries with a certain protocol for carreers from elementary school to retirement. The aim is to "function", but not within ourselves as an integral being, but as part of a society that doesn't respect the innermost necessities of the individual.
We are lucky, however. Today much evidence is being provided on how our blocked emotions lead to major illnesses that go as far as cancer. So there is hope that our point of view might change within the next couple of decades.
Today though, still too few of us actually stop for a moment and reflect on how we are going about our daily lives and whether or not we feel good about it.
We will be talking about this in the next chapter.
Depending on which part of our nervous system is aroused during a stressful event, our emotions and feelings can be translated into either mobilisation of our resources to act (fight or flight), being in shock (freeze) or intenting to calm ourselves and those around us (tend and befriend). The key emotion that drives all of the stress response on all leveles is fear.
But it doesn't have to be fear that drives our actions.
Feeling fear means to feel unsafe, whether or not there is a reality that matches our perception. This is most important when we have had traumatic experiences, as I explained earlier, and were unable to move ourselves into a safe place. Subconsciously this fear keeps us trapped in our current boundaries or the "comfort zone" as many call it. On top of the fear we mostly are unaware of, we then have different feelings and emotions that are being triggered by it. In case of trauma e.g., we hate ourselves for not having been capable to consciously act and help ourselves or others. We then often experience shame, self-reproach, guilt, confusion, nervousness, anxiety...
Anger is a very important help we should all be aware of more often. It is our number one mobiliser, motivator and cheer leader. A healthy reaction to an unpleasant situation is being angry about it, although there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about anger in our society. Instead of using it wisely, we tend to cover it up and let it boil to the extent where it explodes in our face. We could all do with a more prompt and active use of anger by saying "no" and setting limits as early as possible. However, as anger is often confused with aggression, it seems to be a tabu and therefore is not being treated as it should. Practice finding out early about anger and you will be able to manage difficult situations with much more confidence and to your satisfaction.