Welcome to the first installment on how to recognise when you are stressed and what to do about it! My aim is to provide you all, over the next few weeks, with tools and techniques to help you release stress and relax. Remember how I mentioned in my last post that, when we are facing stress, our body automatically goes into “fight or flight” mode? Our muscles get tight and we are ready to take on the threat before us. This is good and part of our evolutionary programming. It allowed our ancestors to survive threats from animals, attacks from other people and also environmental threats.
The bad part is when our bodies can not relax. That is when the damage starts. In my last post I have already pointed out how we can suffer from physiological problems as a result of our inability to reach homeostasis (i.e. a state of relaxation after a threat is no longer perceived). We need to know if our bodies are still tense and, if so, we need to know how to ease that tension. So the first step is to become aware of any tension that we may have. This is where the Body Scan exercise comes in!
Many of us pay little attention to our bodies and to what our bodies are telling us. We are too focused on the external world and take little time to stop and just listen to our bodies. Indeed, Western culture pays little heed to the internal world of the individual. It is time for us to stop, take time out (even if it is 15 – 20 minutes a day), and figure out what our bodies are saying! It is time for some introspection and self-awareness!
The Body Scan sounds exactly like what it is: a body scan! In this exercise you take time to scan your body to see if there is any tension in it, then you relax that area. The exercise is aimed at making you become more aware of where you may have tension. I do this exercise constantly. Yesterday I had a stressful situation and so I did a Body Scan and realised that I had tension in my jaw, my shoulders and my stomach was tight! That is when I started to deal with the tension! How did I deal with it? This is where I show you how to do a Body Scan to remove tension.
The Body Scan
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Take several deep breaths and close your eyes.
- Starting at you toes (you can choose which foot you want to start with), become aware of them. How do they feel? Become aware of your foot, your ankle, your calf muscle, your knee and then your thigh. Is there any tension in any of these parts? Feel the tension. Where is it? Take a breath and visualise the breath like a wave of relaxation flowing to that area and dissolving the tension. Repeat the process with the opposite foot and leg.
- Concentrate on each of your fingers (again whatever hand you start with is up to you). Now become aware of your hand, your wrist, your forearm, your elbow, your upper arm. Breathe into the areas where there is tension and visualise the tension being washed away by waves of relaxation. Repeat the exercise with the other arm.
- Become aware of your waist, your stomach, your chest, your back, your shoulders, your neck. Can you feel tension in any area? Wash the tension away by breathing into those areas. How does your neck feel? Your throat? Your face: cheeks, chin, lips, nose, forehead? Can you sense any tension in the back of your head? How about the top of your head? Breathe in waves of relaxation to wash away the tension.
- Take a few minutes just to truly feel your body. Feel how relaxed it is. Enjoy the feeling of relaxation. Become familiar with it so that from now on you can recognise when you are relaxed as opposed to feeling tense. When you are ready slowly open your eyes.
That is how to do a Body Scan! There is no set time limit as to how long one should do this exercise for. The whole idea is for you to become familiar with tension in your body that you may not have realised was there. That is the first step toward combating the effects of stress on your body. You can even do this exercise during the day. When you feel stressed, do a Body Scan to see what parts of your body are feeling tense (you do not necessarily have to sit or lie down to do a quick Body Scan). You may be surprised to learn that different stressors (a stressor is anything that causes you to feel stress) can affect different parts of your body!