How long does it take to experience your body as it felt in middle school?
For me, it took about two seconds and six words.
This month we are exploring our somatic response to stress. Recently I walked through a mass of people at a bus stop, I heard words directed at me that sent my body cascading back to 7th grade, mimicking the “walk of doom” – that place, be it playground or cafeteria, where many of us experienced emotional trauma during those (pre) teen years. A tight throat, a knotted gut and a frazzled mind was my body response. The difference this time around was that I knew the words to be false. My younger self had perceived them as true. I was amazed after so many decades, my body would remember so vividly…
Stress is most often about what happens inside of us, not outside of us. It is our perception of life’s happenings which cause the most stress. We might have walked together through that crowd and had completely different experiences. Why? We both heard the same words. However the story we tell ourselves about the meaning of those words could be completely different. Different interpretation, different experience.
We tell ourselves stories each day. “I can do this.” “This is too much, I can’t handle it.” “Oh, what I just said sounded so smart/dumb/insightful/lame…” Imagine this: We have 48.6 thoughts per minute, which adds up to about 70,000 thoughts per day. Out of those 70,000, 80-90% are the same thoughts we had yesterday, and the day before and the day before that.
If stress originates from the stories we tell our own self within our thoughts, there is no surprise we are stressed if unaware of the stories we are telling ourselves. Shifting our thoughts changes our experience.
Whether it was the cafeteria walk, the playground, or the dinner table we have all learned a story about our self. Some of the stories are precious and wonderful, others cause us great distress and we are often unaware that the discomfort we feel is tied to our thoughts. Stress is a trigger point.
This week pay attention to your thoughts and your body. When you experience a stress response, stop and ask yourself, “What I am thinking about?” “What is going in me?” Journal these experiences. When we start paying attention to our thoughts it can feel overwhelming. Writing them down helps them to flow out of you, instead of getting stuck in you. It also will help you make connections between your mind and your body.
“My mind is a neighborhood I try not to go in alone.” ~Anne LaMott