How does stress manifest itself in your life? Does it come in waves, big moments of panic crashing in then mellowing out? Or is it more like a constant, steady state? An underlying feeling of holding your breath, frantically moving from task to task, and a general sense of “There’s GOTTA be something more I could be doing with my life instead of THIS!”
If you read that last part and started singing Sugarland’s song “Something More,” I think we’re kindred spirits. That was me in year’s past at my corporate job — both the feeling of “there’s gotta be something more” and that song in the background to it all. Feeling stressed, anxious, and pissed as hell at slow drivers trying desperately not to be late to a job that was sucking the life out of me.
In the movie version of that scene, that song would be playing on the car radio as I’m sitting in fender bender traffic, shouting, “GO PEOPLE!” I slump back in the driver’s seat as a fantasy montage plays out. I’m lying on the beach with a cocktail in hand.
Cut back to the car and me begging, “There does have to be something more, I know it! I just wish I knew exactly what! I could barely get my butt out of bed this morning – I’m SO over the rat race! God – please help me figure out what to do with my life. Please.”
Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, you are certainly NOT alone.
While the specifics are different for each of us, the symptoms of incongruence are surprisingly similar. I think of incongruence as a state of being where one aspect of the state is inconsistent, unsuitable, or incompatible with another aspect.
So you (and so many others) can relate to this song because you are living and working in environments and circumstances that are inconsistent, unsuitable, or incompatible with where and how you really want to live and work. It could look like a misalignment with what your business does or the type of person you want to serve. It may also look like working so hard and having little to show for it – a mismatch in your pricing or a sign you can’t do it all alone anymore.
Those situations create stress. And stress is what makes you want to pack your bags and run away to a desert island where you can drink cocktails, enjoy the sunshine, and never have to deal with difficult people ever again!
When we get to a point where we are ready to escape, it’s a clear sign that stress is officially running the show. Here’s one of my favorite techniques for zapping stress (even temporarily) so you can feel better and move forward with more intention. It’s my version of Stop, Drop, and Roll for stress. Then, you can work to bring those incongruences and mismatches into line.
I know you have heard this before, but whenever you catch yourself in a tailspin, stop for a minute and take a few deep breaths. Box breathing really helps here. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and hold for a count of four.
Breathing slowly and deeply gets you out of your head and back into your body. The lock on your lungs that stress has them gripped in will start to melt and you’ll feel better quickly, I promise.
Now that you have taken a few deep breaths and are back in your body, don’t rush to get back to work (otherise, stress will surely come back in because you haven’t settled that stress response just yet). So, stay there for just a few more minutes.
You can do this by sitting still and noticing where you are feeling tension or pain. It could be in your stomach, in your neck, or in your shoulders. Or maybe it’s in your head. Wherever it is, one place or several, keep your attention on those areas.
With your focus on the areas of tension, begin to relax the muscles in the area where you are tense as you imagine it leaving your body. You can even thank the tension for trying to help you, but then ask it to go since you are relaxing now. (You could even walk through a little forgiveness practice with it.) Continue to breathe slowly and relax the muscles in that area. If you have time, you could also journal about your experience to help you further release the stress in your life.
Before you know it, you’ve forgotten why you were stressed in the first place!
I’m not suggesting that this technique will prevent stress from showing up in your life, but it will help you manage it when it strikes. With practice, and the help of a good coach, you can learn more about yourself and why certain things create so much stress in your life. The reasons may surprise you! I hope this technique helps you when you need it most.