Let me start with a disclaimer – this subject is huge and I would be crazy to try to encapsulate it in one blog post – so consider this part one of a series…
Do you think of yourself as suffering from stress?
Current neurobiology recognises that the effect of stress on our health is so wide-ranging that there is almost no symptom you could be experiencing that is not connected to the way stress impacts on our day to day functioning. My original plan was to introduce a few less stereotypical signs that you might be experiencing stress at an excessive level; to stay away from the obvious – insomnia, depression, anxiety, headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome – and pique your curiosity with some less well-publicised symptoms. For example, did you know that stress can make it harder to pick out voices from background noise, so if you struggle to keep up with the conversation in a noisy pub that may be a sign that your nervous system is over-stressed.
I decided that I didn’t just want to make a list of my own symptoms so I embarked on a little research, and I found this – truly terrifying – website which lists 50 “common” stress symptoms, followed by much of the medical detail I was planning to introduce you to in a later post! And it doesn’t even mention the hearing thing…
The current growth in stress and trauma research was triggered in part by the rise in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in returning US marines and a clear (though politically unpopular) link to anti-social and aggressive behaviour from these ‘walking wounded‘ men and women. PTSD is usually described as an extreme stress imprint after a traumatic experience, one that you keep reliving in some way. The experiences of shell-shocked First World War veterans were probably the first modern recognition of this hard-to-treat condition.
We may all have experienced a minor version of this at some time in our lives, reliving a nasty accident or a frightening experience in our imagination or our nightmares; however, stop for a moment and compare that to the after-effects of a difficult encounter with (say) your boss; one that you brood on, over and over for the following few days, each time feeling the same level of irritation, sense of injustice, and frustration that you did not say what you needed to say in your own defence – perhaps even waking up in the middle of the night to go over it yet again. I suggest that the effect is very similar, in kind if not in severity, to reliving a traumatic event.
This thought first came to me quite recently: I was in the middle of researching the neuroscience of stress so these concepts were fresh in my mind as I listened to a young friend recount an awful journey on London’s public transport. As she spoke she screwed up her face, gasped for breath several times, and constantly tensed her muscles, acting out each incident as if she were still experiencing it in full technicolor. Her behaviour brought to mind a client who could not talk about the daily tribulations of her highly sensitive and much-beloved horse without reproducing his twitches and spasms in her own musculature as she spoke. This could be characterised as vibrant story telling, but when I see it in my practice it is often part of a range of symptoms that include high anxiety levels, chronic muscle spasms, chronic pain, and, understandably, a lack of joy. I cannot help but wonder, could it be that the nervous systems of chronically stressed people are keeping them in a state of heightened arousal focussed on negative memories, a state in which it is natural to constantly rehearse one’s negative feelings physically as well as mentally – a clear example of the very opposite of “letting it go”?
Most of us have had experiences so dramatic that it is natural to act them out as we share them with friends, but usually the intensity of our feelings subside naturally over time, and difficult experiences morph into funny stories about the awful time when “dot dot dot” happened. However some of us stay tense, miserable and frustrated for much longer, and can re-activate negative emotions from the past much too easily – indeed that negativity can even have an automatic quality to it – the wrong emotional trigger can “push our buttons”, just as if we were a robot…
Perhaps as there are so many physical symptoms associated with a malfunction in our nervous system’s ability to cope with stress we need to look at it a completely different way.
“…In short, health is measured by the shock a person can take without his usual way of life being compromised. The usual way of life thus becomes the criterion of health. Sleep, food, breathing, changes of weather, cold, heat, work should all be capable of large variations — sudden shocks. The healthier the person, the more easily will he regain the conduct of his life after considerable sudden shocks by changes in all the necessities for life.”
So can The Feldenkrais Method help you with stress? I firmly believe so, and I have designed a workshop to demonstrate just how suitable Feldenkrais is for lowering stress and calming chronic heightened arousal:
Body-Centred Meditation using Awareness Through Movement
Some of us struggle to achieve the inner focus that brings us into the mindful meditative
state. In this workshop we will utilise the naturally available sensory-motor connections in our brain and nervous system to lower arousal, and develop and enhance our inner sense of peace, calm and mental focus.
Awareness Through Movement is a highly effective process for achieving this state. In this workshop we will utilise the natural processes of our brain and nervous system to develop and enhance our inner sense of peace, calm and mental focus.
UnDoing Tension & Stress – BodyMindfulness & The Art Of Allowing
81 Tressillian Road, Hilly Fields, Brockley, London SE4 1XZ
All Workshops: 2.00 – 6.00, £60 / £50
Contact Maggy for information, or to find out when the next BodyMindfulness workshop is taking place if you cannot make this date.