Stress can do some crazy things to you. It can impair your memory, cloud your mental focus, inhibit the areas of your brain responsible for speech, and generally turn off any body or brain activity that won’t help you either fight or run away from your stressor. If you’re lucky, they’ll all kick in at the same time so you won’t remember what a babbling idiot you sounded like when you couldn’t remember simple words or make a coherent sentence. Sadly, that’s never happened to me. I always remember the most embarrassing things I do or say while stressed, while forgetting the things that are truly important, like the password to my online banking or my home address.
I have, however, found a few ways to keep myself at least somewhat calm and to minimize the effects of stress. And as is fitting to my life, I discovered it by accident. Literally. Here’s how:
3 years ago, the day after the big blizzard of 2011, I fell on a patch of ice and broke my ankle. As you might guess, this impacted my ability to work for awhile, which also negatively impacted my income. Being self-employed, I made no money while I was laid up. Normally, that would be enough by itself to set off a code red stress attack. To make financial matters worse, I had purchased a new laptop the day before and now had payments to make on that. Oh yeah, and for the first time since getting married, my husband and I weren’t getting a tax refund; we owed. A lot. I kept waiting for the meltdown to happen, but it never did.
At first, my ego kicked in and I thought my newfound calm was all a result of my daily mindfulness practice. Don’t get me wrong, my mindfulness practice certainly helped but sadly (for my ego) it wasn’t the primary cause of my new cool-under-fire persona.
Then it dawned on me, I was spending a good portion of every day lying down with both feet elevated above the level of my heart and head. That’s a rest position that begins to turn down, and eventually turn off, the stress response by triggering the body’s natural relax, rest, and digest mode. I had so much swelling that my leg was elevated most of the time. The couch that I spent most of my time on was narrow enough to force me to elevate my “good” leg as well.
Being forced into relaxation mode during a hugely stressful period in my life made me realize just how stressed out I had been for the vast majority of my life. I seriously couldn’t remember feeling calmer or more relaxed since sometime in my early childhood. I also couldn’t remember feeling more clear-headed or able to problem solve so easily. What a revelation! But more than that, what an incentive to learn more ways to do this.
Here are a few things I found that can be incorporated into your day fairly easily:
I was going to write out a call to action, and have you all tell me how you cope with extreme stress, but after writing out the last paragraph I’m suddenly struck with a strong desire to take a nice long bath.