This article talks about how our mind, heart, body and spirit work together to provide an integrative stress management system.
The mind comes in a body and every body has a mind
Integrative stress management starts from the fact that the mind is located within and connected to the physical body. Just as the mind has a body to experience life with, the body has a mind or felt sense to collect and register experiences. Their co-dependence is a vital reality we simply can’t ignore when it comes to learning to deal with stress effectively.
In addition, the physical body, as much as our mind, is a key vehicle with which we express our spirit or who we are. We can think love all we want but we won’t feel loved and cared for as much as when we experience the physical presence, reassurance, touch or a hug from someone we believe loves us.
Emotions and thoughts are not the same
If I ask you to tell me who the first president of America was, I doubt you will experience many feelings as you say George Washington. You don’t know this man personally so his existence is nothing more than a fact in your mind. Such facts require thought but rarely bring up feelings in the body.
What if I ask you where did you grow up? Now the cognitive and cellular memory of what it felt like to grow up in a comfortable and loving family or on a dangerous and racist housing estate may surface not just the factual information – Brooklyn or South East London or Madrid – but also numerous accompanying body sensations.
This happens because facts and memories that encode how something feels, are not just restricted to the hippocampus – an area of the brain associated with memory storage. They are stored in our bodies; our cellular memory.
My muscles learnt to tense when I walked alone and they still do now even though I now live in a far safer neighborhood. Thus for better or worse, cells and their DNA connect the mind and the body through emotions, feelings and time.
Emotional stress takes place in the mind and the body
Let me illustrate. A loss of a loved one is in principle a singular event. The fact that “I lost my grandfather on Feb 14, 1991” happened exactly on that day. However, the emotional echo of this loss may continue to live on in my consciousness for a long time or even forever. And, it will do so not just as a sad thought, but a felt sense of being that little bit more alone in the world without my beloved grandfather.
This stress can impact each person I get close to. Not only will my body remember the pain of that specific loss, but through the power of pattern making the mind is so good at, I will now carry a direct awareness that any person I love may also suddenly die.
Of course, knowledge and experience of death also remind me that I too will die someday. In other words, our embodied experiences carry within them vital information that influences our decisions and behavior.
Stressful experiences from childhood
When painful emotional experiences happen in childhood, they can even precede our ability to verbalise them. Language development in children takes years. Many of our most formative emotional experiences of key emotions such as love and fear occur before we turn seven or eight.
These memories will thus be stored mainly by our bodies. I may no longer remember the exact reason why my parents argued, but I may still carry deep fear in my muscles and a sick stomach when I hear people shouting or if perceive my partner is shouting at me.
Thus to resolve many stresses we have to acknowledge that working with thoughts alone is not likely to lead to lasting resolution when it comes to stress. Because the mind will link the stress present in the now with all previous memories of similar stresses. So what can we do about this?
The more we stay in the mind, the less we connect with the physical body
A recent client showed up to my coaching-therapy practice for time management issues. He struggled with his workload and felt constantly stressed.
The stress this man was under began to impact his work as well as his relationship with his girlfriend. In our work together, we quickly discovered that underneath the surface issue of time management dwelled a much deeper one: fear of losing love. Deep in his psyche, a part of his mind decided to take over as blind ambition, driving him to work to exhaustion.
When we began to work with the mind, heart, and body of this ambition, we soon discovered that we were dealing with a 5-year-old child that felt abandoned and alone. The lesson to draw from this is: we can push emotions into the mind and we can tell stories about them, analyse and try to explain them, to no end. But if we want to really deal with emotions we need to be mindful of our bodies.
A useful tip to help you diffuse stress
If you’re feeling stressed, begin by asking where does this particular stress reside in my body. While you may wish to work with a professional, you can start invaluable self-work by connecting to this physical part of you. Give it compassion, love and positive regard as you would if someone came to you with a bleeding wound. Spend time with it and keep in mind this wise saying: It hurts is not a thought, it is a feeling.
Try to establish caring and mindful dialogue with this part of you and inquire what is needed to lessen the stress or soothe the wound. You may be surprised at the great wisdom your body gives you. If this interests you, you may wish to explore my book on mind-body healing.
Stress management for greater wellbeing
Addressing mind, heart, body, and spirit – the quickest and most lasting way to greater wellbeing and best performance
In my experience, we transform and heal stress in a lasting way best when we acknowledge that the mind, heart, body, and spirit work as one entity. This unity represents incredible power and brilliance when integrated together. And, this is how I work with my clients as their coach. The same entity will feel and perform far worse when disconnected.
Connecting body and mind
What affects one part, ends up affecting all, for good or bad.
Next time you feel overwhelmed or panicky about an imminent project deadline or a difficult conversation you need to have, notice how the thought of it soon makes your stomach queasy, weakens your knees and dents your magnificent spirit. This is fear playing out through your embodied connected self. Just knowing this may be enough to help you rise above it.
Clients often learn to distance themselves from emotions as something to fear. This sort of distancing, however, creates internal disconnection. If I am disconnected within, what can I offer you but that? Instead, I suggest taking a few deep breaths. Aim for 4-6.
Tuning inwards to notice what’s really happening in your mind, heart, and body. You may even want to inquire what is happening to your spirit. Soon you will discover where and how you need to address each one to help return your total system to a more resourceful place.
Arm yourself with stress management skills
The good news is that we can learn these skills and techniques
Learning more about your inner workings will give you important insights into how to stay balanced and feel more empowered. This in turn helps you manage stress effectively.
It may even help you resolve past traumas and issues that much like a constant echo keep reverberating from your past into the present.
Learning to integrate helps us face our challenges, goals, and aspirations with more power, clarity and resolve. It also helps us empower others as partners, parents, colleagues, and bosses. Why not come along to our heart and mind retreat to experience integration and learn vital skills for critical self-care and internal connection. It will help you:
- do better in life,
- improve all your relationships, and
- save invaluable time in the long run.
Further reading to help you manage stress
- The body keeps a score by Bessel van der Kolk
- Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma – The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences by Peter Levine
- Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society edited by Bessel van der Kolk, Alexander McFarlane, and Lars Weisaet