Some of my work with my clients focuses on building up a resilience to stressful situation and proactively using meditation to centre yourself before you begin your day. Some of my clients have asked what to do when you’re overcome with stress in the moment, because it’s not all “Om and Namastay”, you know? For example if you’re at work, or in a meeting, or maybe you’ve had an unpleasant exchange with someone and you feel anger rising. How can you regain control instead of letting it all spill out and wind up flipping everyone in a 5km radius off? (what? No, I’m totally not speaking from experience…)
Here’s the thing: YOU actually are responsible for your own response. For real. I know that this may seem untrue, especially when you feel that rush of emotion coming at and through you, and I am promising you that it’s true. Responsibility = Response-Ability, your ability to respond and choose that response.
I recognize that this may not be as easy as looking at the breakdown of a word and saying, oh, I get it and then having that change everything (but hey, maybe it might?), and so here are some simple steps to beginning to make a shift.
The first step is beginning to notice that you’re experiencing stress and recognize “your physiological signs of stress,”. Perhaps your heart begins to palpitate, your neck stiffens and you clench your jaw, your stomach clenches, or your palms sweat. It may also be the opposite and you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out. These are all the result of what’s happening inside your body. The minute you start to experience stress, your pulse races, your heart beats faster and hormones [including cortisol and adrenaline] are released and this compromises your immune system and your ability to experience relaxation. When you’re able to recognize the signs, instead of ignoring them or normalizing them, you can begin to take steps towards managing your reaction.
The breath brings you back to the present. Why does that matter? Much of that physiological response is actually from your mind either being triggered to past experiences that are similar to the one you’re in or it begins creating multiple scenarios of what might happen next, that’s what the mind does, but when it does this, it contracts your ability to stay in the present moment and expand into possibilities. The breath, a conscious, deep breath forces your entire nervous system to relax; when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.
Try deep belly-breathing from 3-10 times (or until you begin to feel a physiological shift); many of us get into the habit of breathing only through our chest, as we’re accustomed to the idea that our chest is where true breathing comes from. Too much chest breathing can cause us to feel breathless or anxious. Belly-breathing opens up the bottom portion of the lungs by expanding and contracting the diaphragm, allowing fresh oxygen to penetrate deep into the bottom of the lungs.
Walk Away/Change Your Environment
Depending on the situation, this may actually be step 2, or it might be a case of notice, breathe, walk away, breathe more. Removing yourself from the situation or trigger gives you space to choose your response instead of immediately reacting in the heat of the moment. If the stressor is caused by a situation with another person, consider saying something like, “I’m noticing that I may not be able to look at all the solutions to this right in the moment; I need about 15 minutes and then I’ll come back and discuss.” You can even say something like “I’m noticing that I’m feeling triggered right now and I need to step away and figure this out solo for a bit. I’ll circle back with you in an hour or so.”
If this isn’t possible, for example if you’re in a meeting, or on the phone, try moving your body somehow; back up your chair, uncross your arms or legs, roll your shoulders back - anything to create movement in your body and a sort of energetic space between you and the other party. Doing this in combination with deep breathing is ideal.
Begin To Practice This Sequence Wherever You Are
This sequence of “Notice, Breathe, Walk-Away/Change Environment” can work in many different scenarios and locations; traffic (I mean, don’t leave your car, but do the rolling shoulder thing), public transportation, busy grocery stores - Noticing and bringing that awareness into your being through breathing starts to become easier, the noticing becomes playful and like a muscle, one day you will start doing it with much more ease.
Be Patient With Yourself
This will likely be a new process for many of you so please be patient with yourselves. It might be a few scenarios of the noticing step, and you might find yourself noticing after the fact, and that’s OK. Stick with it. The results are totally worth it! Remember that you are not a victim of your responses, no matter how automatic they may seem, with some careful attention, you will see the choice point.
If this has been useful, I’d love to hear about instances where you are beginning to put this into practice. It may feel clunky at first, and you might begin to notice that those waves of emotion are far less intense.