During this global pandemic, many of us, whether chronically worried or not, are feeling stressed out and frazzled. Let’s face it: We become stressed out when we have to deal with scary, frustrating, uncontrollable, repetitive situations.
Like the bullied child who must daily walk into the lunch room, we brace ourselves over and over trying to just keep moving forward and wishing it would stop.
I love the word “frazzled”. To me it perfectly depicts that stressed out sensation.
“Frazzled” is defined as “in a state of extreme physical or nervous fatigue and agitation/damaged or weakened by strain or agitation: frayed. Picture the end of a worn out rope – unraveling, weak, severed from the whole.
Have your fears and frustrations led you to a frazzled, stressed out state? There is hope.
Here are some normal symptoms of being completely stressed out.
- You feel like there are many things you could or should do, but you are frozen, numb or confused.
- Self-criticism is commonplace, you compare yourself to others who you think handle things better.
- You have a strong sensation of impending doom and dread, but you’re not really sure what you’re waiting for.
- The old things you used to worry about still feel relevant but you can hardly remember what they are.
- The desire to control everything around you – your food, schedule, other people is more obvious than usual.
- You prefer to disappear in sleep or mindless activity.
- Tempers are running hot. You snap at others and feel out of control about your emotions.
- Body aches, including stomach ache and pain persist.
- You are exhausted mentally and physically.
For some people, feeling this stressed out is a new sensation. For others, it is a way of life that is now heightened.
If you have any of the symptoms above, slow down and listen to yourself.
Many schools of thought encourage you to “pump yourself up” and convince yourself that everything is just fine. You may feel like you are wrong, extreme or damaged because of stressed out feelings. But this is not true.
In fact, to push stressed out feelings as far away as possible and simply pretend to move forward can cause more stress and damage.
Instead, use these six steps any time you feel stressed out. You may also make them a daily morning routine or evening practice.
Soon your body and nervous system will begin to trust you more, even in the face of uncertainty.
In her book, The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation, Deb Dana explains this ability for you to tone your nervous system. By sustaining and fully feeling the sensation of genuine well being for even minutes a day, your vagus nerve will become toned and more able to connect to safety and connection.
Here’s how you can begin today to actually alleviate stressed out feelings and establish an internal sense of calm and confidence.
1. Breathe and pay attention to your body.
Refocusing from your outside world to your body’s internal sensations is the first step to calm your stress. Begin by sending your focus into your body with slow gentle breaths to help you get familiar with what this “Stressed out” sensation feels like inside and out.
2. Define the feeling using one or all of these techniques:
A. Naming the feeling.
“Stressed out” is the electric but numb sensation in my brain; or,
“Stressed out” is the sense that my heart is tied in a tight little knot.
“Stressed out” is the racing sensation in my legs and nauseous feeling in my belly.
Whatever it feels like for you is your experience and perfectly fine.
B. Moving and/or vocalizing with the sensation.
Allow your body to move as if it is the “Stressed out.” How would the “Stressed out” sensation in you move if it could? Imagine this or actually move and let your body show you.
You can also ask how does the “Stressed out” sensation sound? Allow the sounds to well up from where you feel the “Stressed out” in your body. (It can really feel good to try this out in privacy.) You can moan and groan, make buzzing sounds, scream and holler – let yourself express it! You may even want to make this a family activity.
C. Drawing the “Stressed out’ part of you.
If you’re feeling like an artist, draw a more realistic figure or other clear representation of this emotion. Not an artist? Simply use shapes and colors to show you what your personal “Stressed out” looks like.
3. Listen carefully to what the “Stressed out” says.
Do not fall prey to anyone who suggests you ignore or oppose the parts of you that feel stressed out. In order to make a shift, it is very important to observe and listen to any parts of you that feel frazzled.
Because without acknowledgement and care, stress accumulates and overwhelms you. And in order to care for anything, you need to see and witness it.
Listen to your “Stressed out” by being at least a little curious. Write down what the “Stressed out” says is so darn stressful. Imagine loving eyes listening to this part of you and saying, “That makes all the sense in the world. Of course you feel stressed out.”
Breathe deeply and allow this understanding, compassionate reality to support and surround your stress.
4. Allow a physical release.
As soon as you feel a little calmer or sense a tiny relaxation or spaciousness inside, hold this feeling in your body for a few breaths. Give yourself a hug or smile. Breathe in and exhale deeply, allowing your body to release as much stress as you can.
Let your stressed out experience inside recognize that it is not alone. You are present to your stress, listening and understanding.
5. Check inside for a new feeling.
Still breathing with ease, look around inside you and notice that you may have other feelings besides feeling stressed out and sad. Even the tiniest sensation of calm, courage, confidence, care, curiosity or creativity exists within you and is important. Gently notice if you can tap into that feeling too. Don’t force it. Over time it will come.
6. Take a small action based on the newly-discovered more comfortable or motivated feeling.
What is one thing you could do or say now that would feel a little better than the stressed out sensation? This may be something physical, like taking a walk, yoga, cleaning or playing actively with the kids/pets.
Or perhaps you want to listen to or make music, take a bath, cook something, knit, draw, write or any other creative endeavor. This may be a good time to organize using a calendar or To Do List.
Practice these six steps any time you feel a little stressed out. Be open to your experience changing. You may hear a completely new message from your “Stressed out” from one day to the next. That’s fine. Stay curious and you cannot go wrong.
Whether you are used to chronic stress or it is a newer phenomenon for you, it is perfectly normal to have parts of you that feel stressed out and frazzled at this time. Be with them gently. They need compassion care.
If you have experienced significant trauma and need more help, many therapists are now offering online therapy during the quarantine. Don't hesitate to reach out. And for many more ideas to help with chronic worry, go to calmyourworries.com