Each body communicates differently when things are starting to get off balance and we’re experiencing stress that’s negatively impacting us. We all have our “weak” areas, which is not a bad thing, but rather a protective thing. We have personal warning signs that turn on when things are taking a turn down. You could more accurately say these are our sensitive or highly tuned parts of ourselves that feel and express when we need to slow down, check-in, and nourish ourselves back to calm center space. They’re there even if we don’t acknowledge them. Our own personal warning light in the dashboard alerting us that the tank is getting low. And when we ignore the sign (or signs), we often end up getting sick.
For example, some of us tend to have a sensitive throat and the first place our body feels an impending sickness or extra wear and tear is by getting a scratchy or sore throat. For others, it could be a sensitive digestive tract that expresses in constipation (holding it in) or diarrhea, while others still may get slight headaches or stuffy sinuses. It may be extra tension and stress in our body with tight muscles in the neck or back, and we may posture differently. We may even do things like clenching our jaw or grinding our teeth (in our sleep even).
One of my early warning signs that I have now learned to recognize because I want to keep my tank full, is a holding of my breath and shallow breathing that feels laboring after a while. I also tend to carry extra tension in my upper back and shoulders that start to ache. And if I’m not careful, it leads to a tension headache.
We all have body-level signs and thought-level signs as warnings. When you begin to really pay attention to your thoughts through the dialogue you’re saying throughout the day, I know from experience my dialogue begins to sound very different when I am calm and well cared for vs when I am stressed and tapped out.
Every solution needs a starting point so start bringing awareness to your thoughts and your body as you consider how your personal stress signals show up in your life. What are your warning signs? Try starting an exercise in simply noticing, bringing awareness and getting curious. Just notice what’s coming up for you. Don’t place judgment, just awareness, and then get curious. You can think, Hhmmm I wonder where this stemmed from? I wonder what I could do differently? I wonder_________?
This exercise is a way for you to tune in and really start to pay attention to what’s happening in your body, your mind, and your emotions at the first point when you’re clearly experiencing stress. And then try to move into the more subtle signs your body may be giving you when stress is just starting to buildup and becoming uncomfortable – unmanageable even. And if you can, track it back. When did you first get a signal you barreled past? This can be eye-opening.
Another powerful tool is to try shining a light on the situation as if you’re viewing it from the outside as a neutral observer. What would they see? What would they say about it? What brought the stress here? Using this tool helps put aside any guilt, shame, or judgment, by ‘seeing’ negative stressors from a neutral vantage point. Then, you can shift into problem-solving mode from there.
When you begin to see your personal warning signs clearer and clearer you can begin to put into practice some calming strategies to reset your own course of navigation and re-route back to a safe center space well before you hit overwhelm and high-stress places. In this way, you are building resilience while stepping into the driver’s seat of your own life with a full tank.