Over the years, I have started paying attention to my body, which often reflects the state of my mind. Whether there is a platoon of thoughts, or whether it is one predominant thought that keeps running through my mind, it is undoubtedly reflected somewhere in some fashion in my physical body. The body never lies. Whilst driving back home or elsewhere, whilst at work or at a meeting, I kept checking in on my body, and finding myself clenched, as if ready for an attack.
Sometimes, my entire torso would be tensed, my neck and shoulders were scrunched up, my face tight. For no good reason other than I had to react to what was happening around me or to what people were saying.
Just simple awareness is so powerful that the moment I notice and become aware of what is happening, I was able to relax in that moment. Straighten up, let my muscles stop clenching themselves, breathe, smile. Instant calm, because I knew there was nothing actually attacking me.
Being more aware of my body is a skill I’ve been getting better at, though I’m far from perfect. It’s a cue, something that indicates what’s going on in my mind, and a way for me to look into what I’m stressing out about and decide whether I really need to be in fight-or-flight mode.
Some of the cues I’ve learned about myself: a clenched jaw (happens a lot), clamped teeth, face is scrunched up (eyebrows like I’m mad, mouth is frowning, cheeks tensed), neck and shoulders tensed, sometimes entire torso tensed, legs might be stiff like I’m bracing myself, hands might be clenched sometimes.
And so, during the day (when I remember, which isn’t always), I will check in on these cues. And very often I’ll see them tensed up. And quite surprisingly and perhaps not so surprisingly, the moment I become aware of whats happening with my body, I can easily relax.
I check in with my mind: what am I stressed about? And often it’s something like events or happenings or people creating frustrations or obstructions or indulging in power plays, or I’m getting defensive or worrying about whats next, or someone is frustrating me, or someone is being talkative and boring (I know that’s pretty rare – I am quite attentive generally).
So when I see that going on in my mind, I can see that I have an ideal, an expectation, that other people or life in general aren’t living up to. And I realize that’s a completely made-up ideal that I don’t need to hold on to, and I can just accept this moment. And when I do, nothing is so bad after all. (Read a short guide to dealing with stress.)
Or sometimes I just relax my body, unscrunch my face, unclench my jaw, breathe and smile, and that’s all I need to get the world in order again.