Stress hits us from all sides and affects everything we do. The constant stress loads create an underlying tension and keep us feeling on-edge, ready for the next shoe to drop. The intensity of events can lead to serious anxiety issues and pull us away from leading a peaceful and happy life.
When we are confronted with challenging situations, our bodies react with the fight, flight, or freeze response. The response helps us decide whether we should stay and fight, run, or remain still during a threatening situation. Raising our heart and respiratory rates and heightening our senses, the primal response occurs to keep us vigilante. While the fight, flight, or freeze response is important, we often get "stuck" in this revved up state and feel continuously anxious and uncomfortable.
There is, however, a very simple way to "turn off" the fight, flight, or freeze response and immediately relax. The technique doesn't require special knowledge, tools, or large chunks of time. As a matter of fact, the same tools that protect us from danger can calm us in seconds.
The tools are the five senses, and wild animals are the most efficient relaxation technique teachers.
Animals in the wild must always remain alert to their surroundings. The predator and prey alike are always vigilant to the subtleties of environmental changes like scents in the air, vibrations on the ground, sounds, sights, and tastes of geographical locations. These stimuli carry messages that allow animals to react and respond, maintaining a balanced existence, exerting energy only when necessary.
When an animal hunts or defends its territory, it enters into a high-stress or survival state only as long as needed to resolve the situation. Once a threat or opportunity has been addressed, the animal returns to a natural, calm, relaxed state. Returning to a relaxed state allows the animals to conserve energy and maintain optimal health. Human beings, on the other hand, often stay in high stress states long after an initial survival trigger has passed. Remaining in this stressed state requires enormous amounts of energy and eventually overloads the body, breaking down the operating system. Eventually, the body succumbs to the heavy stress load.
Following the example of wild animals, we can bring our awareness back to our senses after the immediate threat has passed.
Bringing awareness to the five senses interrupts high stress states that drain our energy. By simply engaging our senses, our minds become focused on the present moment and cannot continue to ruminate about past or future events. When we become present, we remove the drama associated with past events and the "scenario building" to predict future outcomes. Making the simple, conscious choice to engage the senses and become present in the moment shifts our perceptions and quiets our minds. When the mind is quiet, we feel at ease. When we feel at ease, our bodies in return, use less energy and operate more efficiently.
Pain and stress are the only ways our bodies can communicate about a problem in our systems. If we ignore these communications, the stress and pain will simply increase until we are forced to pay attention. But if we use our rising pain or stress levels to cue us towards focusing on the senses and present moment awareness, we attune ourselves to our body communications.
The next time you feel yourself stressing or in pain, try these steps in rapid order:
1. Wiggle your toes and bring your awareness down through your body. Move your fingers hands, arms, and legs a little. Roll your neck and feel your head connected to your neck as you move.
2. Consciously focus your mind on the stress-inducing subject. As you bring the subject into your awareness feel where the stress goes. Do you begin tightening your jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, or some other body part?
3. Quantify the stress level, in this moment, on a scale of 0 to 10: 0 = no stress, 10 = immense stress.
4. Pick up an object around you, and really concentrate on your finger tips as you feel the texture and temperature.
5. Look closely at the object, what are the shape, color, and size?
6. Hold the object to your nose, does it have a smell?
7. Tap the object and listen to the sound it makes.
8. If the object is something you can taste, notice what it feels like on your tongue.
9. Once again, feel the object in your finger tips.
10. Measure the stress level again, 0 to 10. Do you notice a change?
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When we listen to our bodies' urgings and respond with an effective reaction, we are able to resolve challenges quickly. If we ignore the urgings or begin freaking out about them, we lose the ability to think clearly or respond effectively. So, next time you feel the stress or pain rising, simply pick up an object and focus the senses. You will be amazed by the swift and beneficial results!
[Editor's Note: The technique listed above is an abbreviated version of a free PDF download available on CATalystRefuge.com, called "How to Eliminate Stress in 20 Seconds….or Less". The full version is illustrated and has step-by-step instructions to follow and can be accessed from a popover box on the website's home page.]
Written by Kevin Rose, LMT, CST-D. As a Licensed Massage Therapist and Diplomate-Certified Craniosacral Therapist, Kevin has logged over 25,000 hours of clinical practice in the field of complimentary manual therapies. Kevin has also logged thousands of fieldwork hours in human-animal interaction studies. Combining this fieldwork with his extensive training in human physiology, Kevin created The CATalyst, an extraordinary approach to wellness and peace.