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May 23, 2013

Lori Brothers: Body awareness can help manage stress

NEW CASTLE — Are you an “inny” or an “outy”?

I’m not referring to your belly button, even though the concept also applies there. I am talking about how you manage your stress. Do you internalize or externalize?

Do you pay attention to how you are really feeling in the body when you are moving through your day? Body awareness is a skill that you can develop that can make a difference in whether you blood pressure is rising, your heart is racing and your respiratory rate is calming you, or alarming your systems.

Do you tense up? Do you raise your voice when you are stressed?

You’re an “Outy.”

If you act out when you are on overload, others may notice that you are stressing out. Knowing your physical cues is something only you can feel. It is a skill you can develop with intent. Make a decision to pay attention. Perhaps check in with how you are feeling at the top of every hour to begin to notice body impressions. It’s like setting an appointment with yourself.

When you touch into what’s happening in your body, you are training your attention to notice patterns. Tension, fatigue, stress feed your systems a message of danger triggering an alarm.  If you learn to pay attention to early signs of these reactions in your body, you can practice feelings of calm, such as slow deep breaths which is the “conversation” your body needs to balance the flight or flight response.

Learn to translate head, neck and shoulder tension, shallow breathing, bad moods, harsh emotionslike anger or hostility. These are all signals that send the message to your body that you are in danger. This results in a defensive chemical reaction of corrosive stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. Stress and tension lead to imbalance and possibly disease.

Take the time to get to know your clues. If you tend to be short-tempered or easily agitated when you are stressing out, own it. Notice when you are barking at the people around you. Noticing is the first step.

Then, take a two-minute cool-down by doing shoulder shrugs and cleaning breaths: inhale through the nose bringing shoulders up towards your ears. Then, breathe out through the mouth, while you relax your shoulders away from your ears. Six to eight rounds can actually “chill” the nervous system and dampen a short fuse, snuffing it out. This helps to recover balance for all of your systems, relaxes muscles, focuses your attention, and calms the emotions.

Do you become aloof and withdrawn, even depressed, when you are on overload? You are an “Inny.”

Realize it may be a sign that you need to relax and restore from internal tension. In some cases this kind of cue may be your body asking you to get a burst of energy, such as a brisk 10- or 15-minute walk. Also, start to deepen your breath. Noticing that you are feeling depressed, or that you are withdrawing, is your first step. In this case, take some positive action.

Sometimes, your internal state is revved up. When you are tense or stressing, do you get jittery or nervous? Do you begin to worry or obsess? This internal jumble can emerge if you are an “Inny” and “Outy.” These tendencies are clues that you are triggered by stress.

Notice what you are feeling. Then start some internal (silent) counting of your breath. Count how long you breathe in and then double the counted exhale. This simple technique can be done anywhere. It connects the mind, body and breath which tends to break the nervous patterns that can be activated by overload.

In yoga philosophy we say, “What you resist, persists.”

This suggests that if you don’t bring awareness to the tension and patterns of stress in your body, it is likely that the effects of continuing them will be similar to what happens when you try to hold a beach ball under the water.

Eventually, you will either implode, or explode — depending on whether you are an “inny” or an “outy.”

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