This workshop included a lookat the whole concept and experience of “stress“ with this analytical approach:
The word “stress” very unhelpfully rolls up a demanding event or situation together with the subjective reaction to that. The implication is that certain “stressful” events inevitably cause “stress”.
It is much more helpful to look very carefully and to disentangle three steps in this process:
1. The objective, outside, in-the-world situation of demand, threat or challenge.
We can state clearly and honestly what are the demands, the threats. Simply spelling them out can very often reduce the additional threat element of them being “so bad they cannot be named.” Saying the unsayable is a cornerstone of good therapy work.
2. The resources that we bring to bear: Our skill and training.. Our energy levels. The impact of other stress factors on us. The amount of support that we may have. Our expectations and predisposition that certain things will be difficult to deal with or not. Our personality and initial attitude of confidence or anxiety
Again, honesty about our resources can be helpful – both in saying the unsayable but equally in identifying what is sometimes simple, realistic and practical steps we can take to increase our resources or to reduce the unhelpful additional stress factors. Going a bit deeper, we can note the impact of our early conditioning on our proneness to certain anxiety triggers.
3. The subjective reaction. Essentially anxiety – rising to fear and panic. With a complicating mixture often of resentment, i.e. anger.
Again as regards our emotional responses, by naming what is possibly unspoken or even shameful, we already start to diminish the power of the anxiety and to moderate or channel the anger.
We can also identify and intervene in the anxiety vicious circle which I will explain in more detail in the workshop.
Briefly: a demand can generate anxiety with the powerful hormonal impact of cortisol as well as adrenaline. This physical reaction is also present in the physical responses, the Freeze Reflex that we are hardwired to have in response to threat : breath holding, shallow breathing, physical tension, fearful body language. These then feed back to the mind the message of danger – and therefore lock in the anxiety. The beginning of a Vicious Circle that is the centre of this discussion.
It is also manifested in the racing mind, which isuseful inlooking for solutions but often very unhelpful in looking for problems. That is a form of hyper-alertness that exaggerates the threats and generates more anxiety – so an even more powerful vicious circle is created.
We can intervene in that vicious circle at a cognitive level, challenging the thoughts, the exaggerated perception of threat, as in CBT.
And/or we can intervene at a physical level – changing the breathing and the body language which, by being the freeze reflex, both expresses and reinforces the anxiety state. We will explore simple and practical ways of undoing that in the workshop.
We might notice that unfreezing the body is the essence of full Yoga. And the result can also be a gradual unfreezing of the heart leading to a more mature, content and compassionate person. Yoga sees that as spiritual progress. We could see it simply as deeper emotional health progress.