Stress, stress, stress. Life stresses you out. You job stresses you. Your friends stress you. The future stresses you. Everything stresses you, and it’s absolutely normal. For starters, look at the speed of modern life.
The thing is, your brain is not equipped to handle stress. Well actually it’s overequipped. And that’s the problem. It’s been going on since you learnt to speak. And it’s the same for all other humans.
The fact that our brains allow us to speak is evolution’s most precious gift to us. That’s how the Force came to be with us and that we are able to build all these beautiful and less-than beautiful things that you can see all around you or on the Internets.
The Force, is the ability that language gives to our brains to make present things that aren’t there in our environment, but just in our minds. That’s how we came to build life-changing inventions like the fidget spinner. And just like the Force, it also has its dark side. And to that dark side you owe your chronic stress.
An animal that can’t speak, say a rabbit, comes across a danger, say a fox. Right away it freezes. Its muscles tense. Its digestive system shuts down. And so do his reproductive functions. Its blood rushes to its limbs. Its premotor cortex light up. In an instant it’s totally ready to fight or flee. But what do you think happens once the fox goes away ? The rabbit relaxes completely. And moves on to the next thing.
It doesn’t work like this for you. When the external threat disappears, it can stick around in your mind. You remain tense. Your muscles remain contracted. Your digestive system stays in shut down mode. And your reproductive bits stay messed up. Blood pumps through your body and your premotor cortex stays lit like an electricity-bill busting Christmas tree. And all this because your mind can make present things that aren’t actually immediate threats to your survival. Your mind doesn’t care and it treats the thoughts and feelings it dislike as if they were sabre-toothed tigers that lustily winked at you at the mouth of your cave.
What can you do? First, make sure there isn’t a sabre-toothed tiger sitting on your porch. Next, practice notice what muscle groups you tend to reflexively tense when uncomfortable experiences show up: thoughts, emotions, fears about the future, regrets about the past, etc. I tend to tense up my shoulders and clench my jaw. On days when I’m not mindful, I get to the evening with my shoulders covering my ears and my teeth ground to fine dust. Not super useful to do anything I do or to experience anything I experience. Pretty useless in fact, and not so good for my teeth.
Next, practice relaxing those of your muscles that tense up reflexively. You might even Google Progressive muscle relaxation and learn how to relax your muscles. It’s worth it.
So by practicing noticing your reflex tensions and relaxing the muscles or groups of muscles that you contract instinctively, you’ll soon notice that you stress so much less. Oh and your digestive and reproductive systems will let you know!