I don’t know about you, but when I am stressed, my stomach is the first to respond. It can be nausea, loss of appetite, tight belly, or simply just an upset feeling.
I talk a lot about stress vs stressors because I believe that understanding the difference can make such a positive impact on how we cope.
Stress is our mental, emotional and physical response to an external stressor.
Let me share with a recent personal experience.
My dog was sick for a few days. It came on so suddenly. It started with him struggling to lie down and get up. 24 hours lately, he could barely walk. You could tell he was in pain.
It caused me so much stress to watch him struggle.
Mentally, I was going over all the things it could be, including all of the what-ifs. A google search of his symptoms didn’t help matters.
Emotionally, I just wanted to cry every time I looked at him trying to walk or even just get up.
Physically, my stomach was a mess!
I knew my stress response wouldn’t go away until he was okay, so tried to ensure it wasn’t compounded by taking on more stressors. I put my focus on him and spent the two days “nursing” him back to health.
Over three days, he slept through the days and nights, only going out to the bathroom or getting up when he needed to eat or drink. And this morning, the day I write this, he got up and even though still a little stiff, was no longer limping, he could put his back leg down and he even brought me a toy to tell me he was ready to play again. All great signs!
The stressor was over. I could relax. My body, however, wouldn’t.
I hadn’t eaten much over the two days so I made a big breakfast. I took the first bite and I couldn’t eat it. I was still nauseated. My body still reacted as though we were in stress mode.
Sometimes it takes root like that. Especially when we are worried for someone we love.
Knowing what I know, I knew I needed to regulate my nervous system before I could stomach a large meal. I meditated, had a little conversation with myself about how it was all okay now, you can relax, and I went outside to water my plants. Soon after, I could feel the difference in my body and I was no longer in a stress response.
It doesn’t take much to regulate your body, but it important to do so. Often we jump from one stressor to the next, putting out all the fires, but it feels like once one is out, another one lights up. Such is life sometimes, which is why it is important to take pause in between the fires we put out.
Another stressor is going to come, but it will be easier, mentally, emotionally and physically to cope with it if we didn’t go from one stressed out state to another.
It can be a five minute practice, or an evening where you say, “I’m not the fire marshal tonight.”
If you are still experiencing an internal stress responses even though the stressor has ended, this is your signal that you need to take a moment to bring yourself back to calm and relaxed state. Especially before another stressor comes for a visit.
I know this isn’t always easy, but take it from me, it is much easier to take those little moments than it is to wait until your body makes the decision for you. Which it will because our bodies are not designed to be in a constant stressed out, fight, flight or freeze response. This isn’t weakness, you are not doing anything wrong, it is simply being a human being.
Some of my favourite practices, including the importance of knowing your stress response, can be found here.