Don't Manage Your Stress. Channel It.

What Do You Want Out of Life?

by Lawrence Gold

Certified Hanna Somatic Educator #003

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This article presents a perspective on long-term stress and ways to get out of it.

Before we can manage something, we must understand it. So let's begin by calling "stress" by its proper name: "distress".

That change alone gives us a deeper understanding of stress. Distress is resistance to a situation: the feeling it's "too much", "too little", "wrong", etc.

There are two ways to handle distress: change the situation and change ourselves. Distress persists when we do neither.

Let's take a closer look at both ways of handling distress.


There are at least two reasons why we might not change a distressing situation: (1) We are afraid of the consequences, and (2) We don't know how to change it.

Afraid of the Consequences of Change

Many times, we secretly prefer the situation we are resisting. Our preference might be secret not only to others, but also to ourselves, possibly because we feel we shouldn't want things that way. It may seem unreasonable at the time, but something we believe about what we want makes it undesirable. We might not even know what that is.

Here's how to find out. Imagine that the situation is now the way you want it and notice how you feel about it. Do you feel completely satisfied -- or do you have some lingering distress about it -- including the stress that "it isn't really that way"?

For example, suppose you feel distressed about your workload at your job. You now imagine that your workload is well within your ability to complete it on schedule. You might then notice that you fear that you might be viewed as non- essential at your job if you have it too easy.

So let's say that you are afraid of losing your job. You now imagine that your job is secure. You might then begin to notice the urge to look for "greener pastures" -- more money, a promotion, a better job, or whatever.

So, now you want those "greener pastures", whatever they are. You now imagine that you're "there". And guess what. Now, you're worried about your security, again.

There's always a reason for not making the move. It's up to you to discover it and then either (1) make the move or (2) change your attitude about your situation.

Here's a little introspection procedure called "Finding Your Freedom" that can help you find your bearings. You might have someone coach you through it, as follows:

  1. They ask you, "About what are you distressed?" You answer.
    Example: I lost my job.

  2. They ask you, "What do you want?". You answer.
    Example: I want a new job.

  3. They say, "State what you want as if you already have it." You do so.
    Example: I have a new job.

  4. They ask you, "Do you have any reservations about that?" State what that is, either to yourself or aloud. Doubts and "reasons why" count.
    Example: "Jobs are hard to find."

  5. They ask you, "About [that element of lingering distress], what do you want?" You answer.
    Example: I want a new job by the end of the month.

  6. Return to Steps 3) - 5) and repeat until you reach an answer to 3) where you feel only satisfaction about what you want.
  7. Compare your answer to 3) (having what you want) to your answer to 1) (your original distress) until you can recall (or imagine) either one quickly and easily.

By the time you finish, you should have a new perspective on the situation and perhaps on opportunities for action.

Frustration: You Don't Know How to Change

Sometimes situations seem insurmountable. You're caught. You don't like it the way it is and you don't want it the way it might be.

Or even more melodramatically: Circumstances prevent you from having it the way you really want it.

For example: You've been laid off.

Step One: Repeat the procedure outlined in the section above until you reach a satisfactory end-point. Find your freedom.

If you find that you cannot reach a satisfactory end-point no matter how far you trace the trail of desire and resistance, try Step Two. Step Two is, "Do something else."

Do Something Else

At any moment in life, there are numerous things that need doing. Some may be closer to your "problem area" than others. That's o.k. Anything you handle in your life will reduce the amount of stress you have about your life as whole. That will give you an additional "cushion" to tolerate your unchangeable situation until you can change it or it changes by itself.

"Do something else," does not mean "Go on a binge." That might produce a needed distraction and provide some comfort -- temporarily. But for lasting relief, handle something that has been on your mind. Then handle something else. "When you can't fish, mend your nets." Then do something for someone else. Or, if all else fails, brood until you're ready to do something else.

The second major alternative for handling distress is, "Change Yourself."


There are two basic ways we can changes ourselves: "in spirit" and "in body."

Relieving a Distressed Spirit

"In spirit" means "in feeling". It means our attitude -- what we feel (not what we think) in a situation.

We might be able just to decide to change our attitude, and if we really do it, that can be sufficient. But if we still harbor grudging resistance to the situation and are covering it up with a positive attitude, that may not satisfy us.

One result of Step One is that it often changes our attitude at the level of truthfulness. That alone can be sufficient to ease our distress.

However, failing that, there is always Step Three.

Step Three is, "Handle the effects of stress on the body."

Relieving Bodily Distress

Distress has one well- known effect: increased muscular tension. This is the meaning of the word, "uptight". Distress is not known for being relaxing. People can get so tense that their muscles and joints hurt -- or maybe they just feel tired all the time.

Tension uses up energy. It also produces "stress chemistry," which produces bad breath and often, bad body odor. A little- known fact: Distress produces toxic waste products in the body.

So it becomes important to do two things: maintain an optimal diet and help the body to get rid of its toxic waste.

Good Nutrition

That means when you want to eat, eat well. That may be a change, for you. Well- prepared, appetizing foods made from fresh, wholesome ingredients -- preferably by someone you love and who loves you -- can help alleviate the fatigue the extra strain of stress puts on you. Eat in moderation; too much food might not be digested completely and add to your load.

The worst thing you can do is to feed yourself poorly. You've got enough going without adding toxicity and malnutrition.

To help get rid of metabolic waste, drink lots of water; an easy way to remember is to drink water after you to the bathroom. To keep your energy up, avoid too much carbohyrate or sugars, as they will trigger fatigue and food cravings. Eat a balance of proteins and complex carbohydrates.

Tension Management

One of the most beneficial things to do when distressed (or toxic) is to exercise. Exercise gets you breathing more and increases circulation -- two of the body's major mechanisms for eliminating toxic waste and preventing stagnation. So, exercise.

There are both more- and less-sophisticated methods of tension-management. Beating yourself up is a less- sophisticated method. Exercise is a more sophisticated method, unless you're a competitive individual, you play competitive sports, and you often lose. (The same applies to card-playing or, for that matter, watching the news on TV, both of which are low-grade forms of exercise.) Massage -- giving or getting -- is a still-more sophisticated method of tension-management. Touch can be a reassuring communication.

However, perhaps the most sophisticated method of tension-management involves a different class of exercise that retrains the brain to release stored-up tension from the muscles. These are the "somatic exercises", a relatively recent development in the field of health care. These exercises affect the brain through slow-motion movements that trigger a relaxation response.

The special value of these exercises is in clearing out tension that has accumulated over the years - - tension that doesn't let go simply by trying to relax. It's important to understand that tension is not something that's "in" the muscles; it's something that the brain is creating by signalling the muscles to contract. Long-term tension is a habit maintained in the brain. These exercises help break that habit.

In addition to the somatic exercises, there are also hands- on methods that go beyond massage for the relaxation they produce. One method of somatic education, Hanna Somatic Education, produces especially fast results.

Eliminating long-term tension has much the same effect as handling matters that have been weighing on you for a long time; it lowers your distress level and increases your capacity for action. It gives you a "cushion" -- some reserves.

So, after all is said . . .

. . . there are three easily accessible approaches for managing bodily distress: diet, exercise, and tension-management.

In managing distress, we naturally want to choose the methods that are (1) easiest, (2) most relevant to our condition, and (3) most effective. While stop-gap measures, such as counseling, a vacation, or a binge can bring wonderful, short-term relief, the more basic measures presented here -- Changing the Situation and Changing Ourselves -- can bring longer-term reductions in our distress level. Use both approaches as you recognize the need.

Since our distress is our own response, no one can manage our distress we well as we, ourselves. I hope that you have found some encouragement, here. The "Finding Your Freedom" exercise described earlier may hold some surprises for you. Don't leave this information sitting on your screen. Try it! You'll like it!

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