Where do you hold stress in your body? Do you know? Close your eyes for a second and feel it out. Think about it. I don’t want you to invite stress into your body, but let your imagination and power of recollection take you back to a time when you were anxious or stressed. Where did the emotion manifest physically?
For me, stress cozies up and makes itself at home in my jaw.
I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. It’s a very “in your face” (quite literally!) space to hold tension. When I’m feeling energetically wired and stress is manifesting in my being, I begin to notice a feeling of tightness in my jaw. I find myself moving it around a lot during the day and waking in the morning with an almost swollen sensation. I can feel the indentations of my teeth on the insides of my cheeks. I wake startled…what day is it? Where am I going? What’s my plan? I can feel that my jaw has been active all night, likely clenching, potentially grinding.
There are chronic grinders out there and I am not one by any means. I have, however, identified that when I stress out, I clench my jaw. Not by pressing my teeth together, but by hardwiring my mouth shut using the musculature that I’d much rather be exercising by smiling and laughing.
I notice this tendency sometimes, when I’m just mindlessly working. While my teeth are apart, my lips are pressed so firmly together that my jaw is growing tense and tight. What the H, right? Why am I locking my lips up like my mouth is frigging Fort Knox?
That’s not all. When stress builds a nest in my jaw, my mind is usually the culprit. So I find myself with lockjaw and a rat race headspace. Early this morning I saw a quote by the wonderful Byron Katie, and it helped me identify my current issue.
If you are mentally somewhere else, you miss real life.
Ah, Ms. Katie, you’ve been peeking into my brain again. So, I’m sure you can guess said “current issue.” I’ve not been present. I’ve been mentally going elsewhere on a regular basis, missing out on the beautiful joy of what’s going on right in front of me. I come in and out of my mindful presence, it’s not constant that I’m away. But it’s not constant that I’m present, either, and that’s enough to shake me. I want to be present all the time.
I’ve been hormonal, that’s my first inclination. To offer an excuse. My schedule recently changed. This is a super busy month. My dad is having open heart surgery this week. I have a lot of homework. Blah, blah, blah.
I’ve always had OCD. Mild, but there nonetheless. That paired with a new schedule, bursting full plate and beautiful hormones doing somersaults through my body, I’ve managed to lean on my coping mechanism. While it’s not booze, drugs or late nights, it’s stress-inducing and damaging nevertheless. What’s my coping mechanism, you ask? You have to promise not to laugh at me…
I SAID NO LAUGHING.
I’m a chronic planner. I rely on my schedules, lists and penciled in (ha, who am I kidding, penned in) intentions. My upcoming week is like a delicious recipe, every ingredient and its preparatory demands listed out, planned for, expected. (Sidenote: the OCD in me is afraid that anyone in my immediate life reading this might from now on challenge me not to plan, or to – GASP – be flexible…gah, please don’t!). The issue is not whether things will go according to my plans or not. That was never in my control, whether I pretend it was or not. The issue is that I know it’s more than likely all going to go off without a hitch. It nearly always does (save for those rare slice your thumb open, up all through the night, sleep through your alarm and throw off your entire day occasions). Even though my routines are typically quite similar to the week before, and almost always unfold seamlessly, I continue to plan…list…and obsess.
That’s where it gets dirty.
I found myself, this very morning, in downward dog…thinking about my plans for Monday.
It’s Thursday, for F sake.
Not constantly planning the next move…that’s an intention I journaled just last night. Easier said than done, little grasshopper. To an extent, my lists and planning are admirable qualities. They serve a purpose. They’re a driving force behind my entrepreneurial endeavors. On the other edge of the sword, I can fall back on this “skill,” if you will, as a mechanism for coping. For taking my mind elsewhere. I’ll dive head first into planning and organizing my life, even the little things like yoga and green smoothies that are like clockwork in my life, so that I don’t have to deal with whatever is stressing me out today. Whatever is on my plate right now that I just can’t palette. Be it work, stress, obligations, fears, you name it, it’s an escape tactic. Speaking of stress, this is an epic ted talk on stress and has revolutionized my thinking on the topic (when I remember to see stress in this way, that is!). It seems to be a silly confession, but it’s the truth. We so quickly slip back into our old patterns of thinking, our old habits…hence being mindful and living mindfully. In pursuit of mindfulness, and seeing stress as a powerful tool and something to thank my body for knowing how to utilize, I constantly bring myself back to this talk.
So, what’s a sore-jawed, busy body girl to do?
Blow through the lips (a tried and true Mel favorite). Say no more. Commit to not over-commiting myself. Say yes to me-time. Pull my prana inwards. Brew a cup of tea. Journal. Meditate. Run a bubble bath. Sleep more. Dedicate myself not to doing less, but doing as much more slowly.
That’s really it, for me. I have no deeper, more articulate suggestions other than do what feels goo and slow the F down. Breathe deeper. Release the jaw. BE. HERE. NOW. Stress is a combination of hormones and it’s the body’s natural response. If a tiger were to pounce out of your kitchen and come slinking towards you right now, you’d be really dang happy to have the adrenaline to get the heck out of dodge, right? The only problem is that, in our modern society, we’ve hardwired ourselves to have the prowling tiger reaction to missing a cab! Or losing our car keys. Or forgetting to pull the trash cans out on trash night.
Like, seriously, some of the silliest crap ever “stresses us out.” The magic in that? The missing half of that sentence? “…only if we let it.”
We’re in the driver seat. We’re the captain of our own ships. And, you know what? After a week of a sore jaw and racing mind, I’m saying ENOUGH! I’m taking back the reins. I’m calling myself out. I’m saying hey, you know what Sara? I get that this is a coping mechanism. But look at your life, it’s pretty freaking rad. You’ve got it really good and to allow this stress ball fiasco to unfold in your precious mind is unacceptable. Be present. You have beautiful people, experiences and lessons right in front of you…don’t miss it!
Whatever your coping mechanisms, whatever your “weakness” (which, let’s be honest, is really just a gift and strength in disguise), identify them. Call them out. Shed your glowing light on them so that they have nowhere to hide, and then blow your lips at them and watch them scatter. Watch the power they have over you dissipate. Once we call something into our consciousness it’s a lot harder to float along allowing the behavior to continue, allowing the mindset to remain. Presence is difficult, which is why it’s a practice.
So let’s practice. Find the place in your body that harbors stress and thank it. Right now. Say thank you ______ (for me it’s thank you jaw) for doing all you do for me, thank you for sheltering my tension when I couldn’t invite it into my awareness. Thank you for now releasing it.
See how it feels. Move the body part around, give it a little rub, physically place your hands on that space and close your eyes. Say to yourself, I release you of all tension and strain. I am present. I am here, right now.
And then let it go. Because that’s the goal, isn’t it? To be neither forward nor back, but to be here. Right now.