STOP right now and Notice. What is happening in your body? Are any of your muscles tense? Is your body comfortable or contorted into an uncomfortable position? What is happening in your mind? Are you “tense” there too? Thinking Anxious Thoughts? If so, it is probably impeding whatever goal that you have because too much Stress diminishes the creativity of the mind.
If you are habitually tense and I asked, “Are you fully inhabiting your life?”I bet the answer would be no. You may be unconsciously making yourself “small” to escape notice in an attempt to stay “safe.” Or, you may be racing around in an unconscious attempt to escape danger. Or, you may be aggressively invading the space of others in a mistaken attempt to protect yourself. The amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for quick defensive reactions, the fear response, has three basic responses: fight, flight, or freeze. Anxiety can linger after the physical response of fear has abated, and the amygdala is plays a part in the regulation of anxiety. (See The Amygdala: The Body’s Alarm Circuit, Scott P. Edwards)
So don’t blame yourself, but please do take responsibility for changing this condition and your behavior. It is probably a habitual response from probably countless previously conditioned stimuli related to intensely unpleasant experiences like emotional abuse or trauma. For example, “Children raised in dysfunctional households tend to retain the low-grade state of vigilance they experienced as a child throughout their life.” (Robert Scaer, M.D., The Trauma Spectrum). This is very bad news for a number of reasons, one of which is that it means that excess cortisol is stealthily secreting into the bloodstream and excess cortisol is the enemy of health – especially healthy longevity.
Instead of your habitual response, breathe deeply and fully and exhale as deeply and fully until you are relaxed. It is impossible to be afraid and relaxed at the same time. Being anxious and tense are signs of mild to moderate fear. Relaxation is your natural state – but, if you grew up in a dysfunctional household, this is probably news to you.
The good news is that the remedy is relatively simple. Breathing slowing, deeply, and evenly is the way back to being comfortable in your own skin – a way of returning to a natural state of grace. The body relaxes into a more graceful posture and the mind regains presence. The “difficult” part of changing is that it takes practice to change habituated conditioned responses. The habituated part of this is that you have become used to feeling uncomfortable in a number of ways and have stopped listening to your body’s need for comfort and probably a host of other needs as well.
You can use tension in your body or worry or angry thoughts in your mind as a cue to breathe more fully. People tend to hold their breath or breathe rapid shallow breaths when tense. Change begins with noticing when you hold your breath or breathe rapid shallow breaths, and then breathing deeply and fully until relaxed.
In time, you will begin to habitually respond to tension with full breaths. Even just imagining yourself getting a heartfelt hug causes the body to relax. Spending time in practices like yoga and meditation can enhance your ability to relax. I believe regular meditation can be used to help break the pattern of habitual low-grade vigilance.
It starts with giving yourself permission to gently inhabit your space. It is okay to take up space. As you practice inhabiting your space with ease, you will notice other areas of your life that require attention, and you will have greater presence of mindbody to address those needs.
©Noreen Wedman 2010