For the past decade, the fascinating details supporting a mind-body connection have gained mainstream authority, with medical professionals recognizing the effects psychological stress has on blood pressure, cortisol levels, and neurological function. Yet the daily practices related to managing—and even making friends with—stress are not yet as prominent. And though the idea of “choosing to be happy” has good intentions, the process of finding mental balance goes way past a simple choice or positive outlook. The process of rewiring the mind takes time, diligence, and a level of self-understanding and patience. Though this may sound daunting at first, understanding our body’s small yet significant quirks—and how they relate to daily stress—is a simple, incremental process that is very achievable with time and practice.
When getting started, it can help to consider your body and its reactions to outside forces the same way a scientist might. When stress hits, small or large, take a moment to check in with your body. How has your breathing changed? Where are you suddenly holding tension? Does the tension feel a specific way in the body? Try to scan the body without judgment and without the attempt to make any changes. At this point, you are only an observer; the attempt to “fix” the issue may only cause further tension. The simple practice of becoming aware of the change is a way to alert your conscious mind that this physical action is connected to receiving stress.
More specifically, become an active observer of breath. Breathing is a window into your body. If you feel your breathing has tensed, quickened, or become shallow, this could be a direct response to holding the body different than before the original stress took hold. To return to natural breath, breathe slowly through the nose, hold it for a moment, and then release through the mouth. Even if the stressful situation needs immediate attention, a clearer mind and calmer breath will help you manage first steps. Your fight or flight instinct kicks in, providing proper adrenaline to keep our body safe. But when we are in common situations—that are not threatening our safety—we can catch the mind’s reaction and curb tension by returning to breath awareness.
Once you’ve done a successful scan of the body, consider journaling your observations by hand or recording information on your cell phone/laptop. Do you hold tension in your jaw, neck or hands? Do you bite your lip or tense your abdomen? As you write these out, consider any chronic health issues that have followed you over the recent years. Things such as indigestion, heightened pulse, or dizziness can be a result of physical reactions to stress, and all of these can often lead to larger issues or the treatment of unnecessary ailments. This documentation will also be helpful if you do choose to see a doctor or therapist regarding ongoing concerns.
According to the performance-inspired Alexander Technique, the body will return to its natural state as the mind releases habits of holding and tension. The related exercises are both meditative and physical, resulting in a better connection with body, breath, and voice. Yoga and Pilates is another excellent way to investigate hidden tension and physical patterns, as well as provide a window into mental habits and unwelcome thoughts. Overall, therapists and other medical professionals can help you decipher these connections, and can provide additional tools for moving forward when you feel stuck.
This ongoing mindfulness practice will eventually lead to both the release of harmful habits and a game plan for addressing our stress-related health issues. This is only the beginning, but it is a simple, immediate way to begin strengthening the mind-body relationship today, eventually clarifying how we can receive any piece of information—stressful or not—in a healthy, sustainable manner.