stress

Stress and the Body

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Have you ever noticed that your body aches, you’re more irritable than usual, or that you’re unusually tired? Maybe it’s a combination of all three. The “new” symptoms seem to be coming from nowhere, without any reason. You didn’t exert yourself particularly hard during your last workout, you’re getting a solid 6.5 hours of sleep, and work is going smoothly. So then, why are you experiencing them?

If you’re like me, you may recognize stress after your body is aware of it. If you’re like me, your body tries to warn you that you need to take care of yourself. If you’re like me, you push through it thinking that it’s nothing, until you’re forced to stop because your body refuses to go any further.

April is stress awareness month. Although I may know that I should be more mindful of my stress levels, I constantly find myself fighting the reality that I have a smaller capacity than I used to. For the past two years I have been battling an undiagnosed chronic illness that is accompanied with chronic fatigue and chronic pain. As such, I am more sensitive than ever to my new stress levels.

During my teens and early 20s, I thought I was invincible; I took on more projects and sleepless nights than was necessary. But now, nearly a decade later, I’m finding that my new limits and boundaries my body places on me, forces me to slow down. I can’t say that I have fully adjusted. Often times, I find myself running at the same pace I used to. But as a result, my body reminds me, with aches and pains, that I can’t sprint through life any longer.

The tension between sprinting and pausing in life is a real one I struggle with daily. I grapple with the reality that I need rest – I need physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social rest. There doesn’t seem to be a sweet spot between the two extremes, at least not one that I have found yet. It’s a new challenge that takes time to discover, try, fail, and progress.

With the change of seasons, we often associate spring with new beginnings and new hope. Having a fresh start to try once again, I’m told to slow down, rest, and take care of my body. With the start of spring, I want to challenge myself with looking at stress differently. Stress, and my body’s reaction to it, is a good thing. It’s a physical reminder of the limitations I face. And that’s okay. I’m human. I am finite and this reality puts the value of life into perspective. Despite the challenges I face, there is still a chance at having hope. There is a chance of finding rest. There is a chance at being healthy and having a healthy relationship with stress.

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I realize that you may not experience stress the same way I do. But how many times do you wake up during the week wishing you had a little more energy, a little more quiet time, or a little more rest? Battling stress and pursuing a healthy life does not have to be hard. I want to challenge myself and you with the idea that progress doesn’t always have to be drastic. No, progress also includes the small pauses and increases in awareness of self. Allowing grace in our lives for the reality that we are limited is one of the kindest postures we can have towards ourselves.

So, how can you pause today? What is your body telling you that it needs? What is your soul needing today? What’s one small adjustment to your schedule that would help you find rest? Let’s talk more about the practical steps after reflecting on our current state and stress practices. 

About the Author:

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Alex Song, RP, Apprentice, is pursuing an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Denver Seminary. Alex is passionate about helping people become their most authentic and true selves. She loves helping people navigate their life pursuits, identity formation, and career aspirations. She feels honored to walk alongside clients as they share their story with her, inviting her into that sacred space. She desires her clients to live life purposefully and well through evaluating their physical, spiritual, mental, social, and emotional health. As clients navigate meaning making, she works with clients to equip them with the tools to live their best life. Alex desires to connect with the Asian population to help them advocate for their voices as they pursue what wellness looks like. Alex is a Colorado native and enjoys exploring new coffee spots, watching movies, and catching up with friends.

Befriending Anxiety

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For many of us, the idea of befriending our anxiety would be akin to befriending the quicksand that we feel ourselves sinking into. How can we ever learn to accept and appreciate something like anxiety when all it has ever done is make us feel miserable and out of control?

In my opinion, the first step towards befriending anxiety begins with understanding it. Have you ever wondered why human beings experience anxiety? While anxiety does have a bad reputation it is also a universal human experience that is hardwired into our DNA. Whether we like it or not, our anxiety has a purpose.

Anxiety, at its core, is a biological alarm system designed to notify us of a perceived threat. When we are extremely anxious our brain descends into fight or flight mode. As a part of instinctual survival, when we perceive a threat our best possible options are to fight the danger or to run away from it as fast as possible.  

This would all be perfectly fine if human beings were still living in an era where survival was literally dependent on your ability to fight or run. In the modern era however, we are more likely to experience threats like midterm exams or uncomfortable conversations with coworkers. Anxiety has evolved over millennia so that it can be triggered by emotional and existential threats as well as threats of physical danger.

This may seem like a malfunction of evolution, an obsolete system of alarm that is now causing chaos and havoc in our modern lives. However, I believe that anxiety has adapted to the new modern standards of survival and at its best functions to keep us in alignment with our values and beliefs.

This theory of anxiety operates under the assumption that there are at least three unique types of anxiety:

1. Existential Anxiety- This is the anxiety associated with being alive. Our fear of death, our questioning of reality and why things happen. This type of anxiety plays an essential role in our pursuit of meaning in life because without questions we would never seek answers.

2. Motivational/Moral Anxiety- This anxiety identifies when we are behaving in a way that is inconsistent with our values. If being truthful is important to us, this anxiety will arise when we tell a lie. The theory of conscience could be attributed to this type of anxiety as it is foundational the development of our moral code and idealized sense of self.

3. Neurotic Anxiety- This is the type of anxiety that gets the most attention. Neurotic anxiety is attributed to anxiety disorders. This anxiety can develop due to several factors: genetic predispositions, imbalances in brain chemistry, trauma, etc. Unlike the two previous types of anxiety, the anxiety is purely symptomatic and indicates that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.

Understanding which type of anxiety we are experiencing means that we can respond to them appropriately. Each of the three types expresses a specific and essential need to resolve the anxious feelings and grow from the experience.

  • The essential need for Existential Anxiety is to pursue answers and meaning.
  • The essential need for Motivational/Moral Anxiety is to change either our values or our behaviors until they are in alignment.
  • The essential need for Neurotic Anxiety is to address the underlying causes and to develop healthy coping strategies.

The key to befriending our anxiety lies in our ability to respond to these essential needs. When we give our anxiety what it is asking for we accomplish more than an end to anxious feelings. We grow closer to our idealized selves, we mature and develop resiliency each time we come out on the other side.

To be able to identify which type of anxiety we are experiencing we must learn to listen to what it is telling us. Awareness will follow a willingness to view our anxiety as the messenger rather than the enemy.

Imagine anxiety as the check engine light on a car. If we ignore the light, cover it up, or continue driving we risk causing even more danger to our vehicle. The same is true of our anxiety, if all of our effort is placed on turning off the feeling without discovering the cause, we not only deny ourselves the opportunity for growth, but we risk causing ourselves more damage in the long run.

My hope is that you would be willing to give your anxiety a voice. Allow it the opportunity to express its needs so that you can respond in kind.

The path to friendship can be difficult, but well worth the effort.

 

 

MAKING WAY FOR THE INNER TEACHER