MBSR week 4: Stress Reactions
This week is about stress reactions. The meaning of MBSR is mindfulness based stress reduction, so this week I want to talk about stress. Today I don’t want to go much into the stress reduction itself, but I dedicate this post for describing different triggers and reactions to stress. During this course, I have started to pay more attention on different experiences, moments, emotions, and especially on the ways how my body reacts in those different moments. I have followed up both pleasant and unpleasant moments following the instructions from the previous post. What triggers stress? Below I list my most common ways how stress occurs in my body and mind. These are only my subjective experiences that I recognize in myself quite often. Feel free to comment down below whether you relate to any of these!
Fear of losing control
In this section I could insert anything after the words “fear of”; fear, whatever the cause is, activates a stress reaction. For me, one common fear is the fear of losing control over something. I have a fresh example of this from last week once I received a very surprising news. It turned out that we need to move (again) out of our apartment and find a new home by the end of the year. We have now lived in this apartment for less than 6 months, and in few months we will be living again in another place.
Without going deeper into that, I just want to let you know how I acted after hearing this news. The first reaction was sadness and stress/anxiety. Once I thought about it more in depth, I understood that the anxiety came from the fact that I was no longer in control over the situation; we need to move and I just have to accept it, letting go the power of being in control over it. The home I’ve built will no longer be the home for us after a while.
As I have a strong need to have everything under my own control, the situation where I was told that I need to move in few months, made me feel very uncomfortable, even fearful. My reaction was stronger than I thought it would be. The next day, I still felt anxious but started directly looking for solutions; I searched all the available apartments nearby and spent many hours doing it. I even sent one application without thinking it through. All my thoughts and energy were directed to finding a new place asap. I kept going on and searched again 3 more times during the same day, as if there would be new apartments available on the site every hour.
Now thinking my behavior, I understand that the strong fear of losing control triggered me to act like this. Honestly speaking, even the reason this post is published only today instead of Monday is because of the hours I have spent on finding a new place instead of focusing for example to writing this blog. Of course, in this case I actually need to find a new home, but it would be good to learn to accept the unknown, to welcome the feeling of not knowing and to believing that everything will be ok even though I don’t have the solution yet available.
This was just an example out of many many others. I have noticed already many years ago that I have a strong need to be “independent” and “in control” about my life and all its aspects. However, lately I have started to recognize early enough when this fear activates. Once I notice it happens, I can remind myself, that it is only my emotion, thought or sensation. I can always come back to the present moment. And most importantly, once bringing back the attention to the present moment, I can choose not to react the way my automatized reactions would.
Can you relate to the fear of losing control over something? Do you have some other fears?
Feeling stuck, restless or anxious
The next one that I recognize in myself quite often is a general feeling of being stuck. This can happen basically anywhere; at work, at home, in a public place etc. For me, feeling stuck at work means that I just feel overwhelmed with no specific reason. For example, once writing an email, it can happen that I lose my focus totally and am thinking of multiple things at the same time. It’s like multitasking but doing it only in my mind; the mind starts to wonder in the long to do list, instead of actually working on one of the tasks on that list. Even though in that moment I might not even have any stress or hurry that I would be aware of.
Feeling stuck at home usually happens – believe it or not – during weekends. Once I have more time to just be with myself, sometimes it makes me feel very restless. Not always, but every now and then. I have noticed that doing nothing is not easy for me, especially mentally. I should be doing something, something meaningful. This is quite common I guess, can you relate to this?
What happens in my body once I feel being stuck, anxious or restless? It is difficult to describe as the body sensations can differ time to time, but one common sensation is a feeling of pressure in the chest, or a need to run away. Those might not be strong sensations, usually aren’t, but sometimes are. What is good to understand is that also these short moments where we feel only a little off, restless or whatever “abnormal” feeling we might have, are worth paying attention to. Our bodies are telling us something very important through sensations. We can come up with endless ways on how to shut down those messages our bodies are giving us – i.e. social media, sports, food, drinking etc. – but what about choosing to stop and observe those feelings and sensations instead? Giving them the attention they so desperately are asking for?
What to do when feeling stuck? First step is noticing it. Many times we do not even notice once it happens, it is just some weird emotion of being a bit off from whatever you are doing. After noticing, be gentle and accept the emotion or sensation that you are having. Take a moment to stop whatever you are doing, and just breathe for a while. Take yourself in the present moment. Usually that already helps to give some clarity and put your emotion or sensation into perspective.
Disappointments & sadness
Finally, I could shortly talk about disappointments and sadness. There are some themes over which I can get pretty easily disappointed or sad about, which further activates a stress reaction. Firstly, having expectations towards something or someone. Generally, having expectations is very natural for all of us, however it usually causes more disappointments than joy. I have tried to learn to let go of my expectations towards basically anything. The truth is that there are always some unconscious expectations that we do not even realize. And whenever those expectations are not met, it can result to a stress reaction.
Another one is the news. Reading news is considered as an adult thing to do, right? But isn’t it true that even though it is a correct thing to do, it does not make you happy? Ok, news are not there to make us happy, but what if it constantly brings us anxiety? Especially during this crazy year 2022, it is definitely a source of stress. As much as i would be an adult thing to do, maybe sometimes it is just better to not read them for a while.
Then, the last one for today is injustice. Inequality and injustice in almost anything activate my stress reactions very easily. This is something I try to work on, as I have noticed that I tend to take some of these things too seriously and feel that I would be responsible to solve the issues (which in reality might not have anything to do with me).
So this long post was all about describing that stress is everywhere. It is so present in our daily lives that we don’t always even realize it. Therefore, it is very important to start noticing those moments where we are acting based on that stress reaction. And to start noticing what triggers those reactions. In order to manage or reduce stress, we first need to understand where it comes from and how it occurs.
x Mari Susanna