Stress and Our Relationship with Our Bodies

By Bryan Garcia (he/him/his)

How have you been feeling lately? When was the last time you checked in with yourself to ask how you were doing both emotionally and physically? What did you notice? Perhaps a yearning for something in particular? With Austin being back in Stage 5, this might be the perfect time to consider taking inventory of your wellbeing. Doing so could help you decide what steps to take and make sure you are coping the best way possible.  

You might have noticed that your stress levels have been affected and, as a result, your body has begun to react. Our bodies can react to stress in a number of different ways, some that may seem obvious like headaches or increased irritability, and others that we may not so easily connect, like digestive issues and hair loss. Physically, stress can be awful to our bodies. In some type of way, we might even feel lost in our bodies. Once you have been able to listen to your body and identify what feels off, you can then choose ways to help you cope with and manage the stress you are experiencing as you navigate through life and its unpredictability. The following are some examples. 

Self Talk

Every now and then, my mind wanders and I look back to a particular moment when I said something that makes me cringe and say to myself, “Oh, I am so (insert mean thing to say).” Over the years and with lots of practice, I have started to catch myself and quickly reply with a, “No, you’re not” to redirect my thoughts. I sometimes try to take it another step further and add a compliment or state a positive fact about myself. Something like, “No, you’re not. You have great ideas and many of them have been used to help make things better.” 

Since the Winter Storm and the city of Austin going back into Stage 5, I have noticed this becoming a lot more challenging for myself, which makes the effort I put into this all the more important. I like to think that by redirecting my thoughts, I am taking a stand for myself and rejecting any internalized shame and guilt that I am holding. Self-Compassion can be a powerful tool if we put it into practice. Feel free to try this at home! 

Routine

Routines sometimes get a bad rep in that they seem too restrictive or eliminate any possibility of spontaneity from our lives. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, but I guess that all depends on where you choose to incorporate them and whether you feel like you need them! The difference in our day may lie in whether we begin our day proactively or reactively. You can start small by just planning to get up 15 to 30 min earlier than you are used to. Then decide if you want to start with drinking some water to replenish and hydrate your amazing organs. This can be followed by some quiet time (5 min works) with coffee, tea, or even more water. After that, you could move over to your desk or wherever you eat breakfast to write your intentions for the day or journal about your dreams or meditate/pray. You could even look over any goals you have set for yourself or stare at that vision board you created for a while. 

What a great way to invest 15-30 minutes in the current and future you, versus the rushed and reactive morning we may be used to! You can set the tone! Make it a time dedicated to helping you show up as much as your full self as possible or perhaps as a ritual to honor the divine and awesome being that you are. Just make sure you write it down and keep it somewhere easy to see like your bathroom mirror, nightstand, or as the screensaver on your phone! You can even set little timers for each of the experiences you want to have. What sort of routine would get you excited and energized about the day or help you ease into the day with a stronger sense of calm? What would a routine that helps you unwind and leave things you carry on your mind at the door for the night look like? Remember that routines take time to establish, so keep it simple and slowly add to it over time as you see fit. 

Emergency Wellness Kit

Chances are you might have a First Aid Kit at home or at least a band-aid or two. That can really come in handy in an emergency! Now, what if you had a “mental health emergency kit” for when you are facing an emotional crisis or are just feeling overwhelmed? What do you need the most when you are in these situations? Your favorite chocolate? Some tea? A list of grounding exercises and instructions on how to do them? Uplifting affirmations written by others that make you feel safe? Something lavender scented or another favorite essential oil? A love letter you wrote to yourself? A childhood toy? Your favorite sex toy? Noise-canceling headphones to remind you of the playlist you created for this very moment? Your medication? More chocolate (Yes, this is your sign to go get some!)? 

I love reading the written affirmations that friends and former coworkers have written for me and have even kept them up and in plain sight on a tack board so my eye catches at least one during the day. It is almost just as good as hearing those words aloud since it is normal to want to turn to loved ones when we need support. Keep in mind that in a crisis, it may not be enough for you to just remember that you can call on that certain friend when you need them, so you might need a “Call/Text So-and-So and say ____!” sign written on a post-it-note and taped right underneath the lid. The YWCA of Austin even offers a warmline to “assist people who may want to talk to someone to feel connected.” You can also consider keeping some of these emergency kit items in a zip-lock bag to keep at work, in your bag, or in your car for easy access if that makes sense for you. What is in your emergency kit?

Final Thoughts

Even though we might have heard plenty of talk around why self-care is important in our lives, I appreciate the fact that it can be unique to our needs. These tend to change over time. It is part of getting to know ourselves better and strengthening the relationship we have with ourselves. As we navigate the rest of this pandemic and try to get into a better space, let’s try to focus less on what we shouldn’t be doing and more on what we can do for our bodies. Instead of guilt and shame, we can try coming at this from a place of possibilities.

Join AFSSA (Asian Family Support Services of Austin) and allgo on Tuesday, September 14th from 6 to 7:30 PM CST for a cozy wellness chat filled with community conversation and to check in about our relationship with our bodies. “How has it felt to be in your body recently?” We will discuss the way stress and grief manifest in our bodies, like how it affects our breathing. We can also offer one another tools to help cope and soothe our mind and body. Stay in touch by following us @allgoqpoc on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook! 

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