Everywhere in nature and the world around us, we recognize that when stress and pressure build up — a plugged volcano, a pipeline, or a steel girder undergoing too much pressure — it cannot continue indefinitely. Something has to give. The volcano overflows, the pipeline blows, the girder snaps — all with potentially catastrophic results.

pressure gauge -- CC Image courtesy of speredenn on Flickr

When Stress and Pressure Buildup: Your Body Keeps Score

We tend to ignore the fact that we too are subjected to increasing pressures. When it comes to ourselves and the stress we face throughout the day, something eventually has to give – just like the natural world.

This is experienced over time: rising prices, lost jobs, working “smarter and harder”, and catastrophic events (both human caused and natural).

For example:

  • the mom and pop store trying to deal with regulations and costs
  • the customer service centers where the caring employee is expected to do the job and keep the numbers  down
  • the parents with the new baby and inadequate sleep
  • the women who needs to make a tough decision
  • the man trying to cope with time constraints
  • the family with overloaded schedules

Pressure builds and predictably, we see a blowup or implosion:

  • sleep loss
  • anxiety
  • frustration
  • anger
  • emotional outbursts
  • freeze, flight, fight responses
  • rapid heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • muscle tension
  • dizziness

That’s when many of us finally get it.  We are ready to blow up or implode.  Now we need help, so what to do?

quiet road -- CC Image courtesy of christing-O- on Flickr

Relieving the Stress and Pressure

  1. Begin with quiet.
    Yes, quiet. Your body has been subjected to multiple stressors which includes the clangor of modern life. You deserve (and likely the muscles of your body crave) the opportunity to recover from the noise of “civilization.”
  2. Tune in to your current body state.
    Be mindful of muscle tension, heart rate, stomach and other organs and pay attention to each area that calls to you.
  3. Watch your dog or cat or child sleep.
    A short breath in, a slight pause, and a long breath out.  You also sleep like this. Your breathing can calm your body by addressing your amygdala, your fight-or-flight survival mechanism. It tells your amygdala that you consider yourself safe and it is ok to release tension.
  4. Accompany this with calming music, a restful or beautiful picture, a warm cup of soup or tea, or something soft to touch.
  5. Repeat numbers 1 through 4 until you feel some relief.
  6. If your stress doesn’t respond as much as you would like, seek further help from a therapist who understands stress. Your body and mind will appreciate these gifts you give to it.

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Gail G. Johnson, MSW, LMSW, ACSW
“Compassionate Acceptance with Choices for Change”
Gail’s 20 years of experience in mental health have led her to look deeply into the mind-body connection. She has learned that mind and body continually influence one another. Focus on the body’s clues and life’s experience leads to understanding and the opportunity to make healthy choices. Gail has a masters degree in social work, is a member of NASW, and is certified by the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She currently practices at the Fountain Hill Center.
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