Eight years ago, before I really learned how to nurture myself, I was convinced for a while that slowing down might break me. When I got home at the end of a long day, I was often so tired that all I wanted to do was flop on the couch, but as soon as I did, I felt restless and anxious. As soon as I closed my eyes to meditate, I’d either break into tears or a cold sweat. For the life of me, I couldn’t lure my body into a full night’s sleep.
I sometimes see this in clients at the beginning of our work. Yoga students in stressful jobs can power through fatigue in their warrior poses but fidget uncomfortably during active rest, their jaws clamped tight with tension. Coaching clients who overperform at work and at home, although they desperately crave tranquility, get anxious at the prospect of 15 minutes of downtime without TV as a distraction. I understand them on a visceral level.
For me, as badly as I wanted to feel balanced and calm again, my body clung to stress like a constricting suit of armor. That’s the funny thing about chronic stress. Even though being tightly wound feels awful, it can disguise itself as protection. I wondered if letting my guard down for a moment might make my whole life come crashing down around me.
But it didn't. Tiptoeing my way out of constant stress gave me space to see the truth of what needs weren't being met and where I needed fresh boundaries and deeper commitments to myself. I could finally move forward.
Long-term stress can prevent us from seeing the truth of what we need. It's easier to take action to meet our needs when we know what they are.
Finally letting go after a long time of holding on for dear life can sound impossible at first. There may be tears waiting and the panic that our entire world might go off-kilter. But getting out of constant, visceral tension is essential to restoring balance to our lives. Navigating an exit strategy from chronic stress can allow you to feel less trapped and finally free to take a full breath again.
If you're searching for a way out of chronic stress and you need an escape plan, join me for a seminar I’m co-hosting with my colleague, Aisha Moore. It’s called Prioritize U: Create a Self-Care Plan You Love, on June 18th in Durham, from 3:15-5:45pm. We’ll help you create safety in letting go of chronic stress, and practice some gentle yoga to reconnect with yourself in a caring way.May you grant yourself the freedom to reclaim your wellbeing and calm.