Coping is about self-preservation. We all set it at different levels according to us and the environment we live in. Does changing levels require a fight back against what is comfortable to us in body and mind?
It may seem totally far-fetched, but I am beginning to think that stress, the kind that takes up residence in the body, has a mind of its own.
Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System
In simple terms, these are the two divisions of our “autonomic nervous system”, which act to control our unconscious actions. While it covers many actions, the fight or flight response is what we cover here. Fight or flight is unconscious because our survival depends on reacting instinctually, read faster, than when decision-making is required. Fight or flight is also triggered by stress.
The interplay of the sympathetic (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic (feed and breed or rest and digest) is what we require to maintain homestastis, or presence. But many people struggle to get out of sympathetic mode and to relax.
What happens when we don’t relax
As a physical therapist explained to me recently, when you are always on, let’s say from work, and you get home, you need to be able to turn off when you get there. Many people find this difficult, and the tension of the day is not left behind and comes home with them. Little by little, this tension takes up residence in the body. Knots in our backs, tight shoulders, wherever.
This process is a reflection of who we are, and how we live. How one person manages or copes with stress is different than the next, and as a result, residual stress will take up residence in different places in the body according to how you handle it, where you keep it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about stress lately through all the efforts I am making with general wellness and my body. In particular, the use of mindfulness techniques and different types of massage which are designed to release tension. The tension I am after is not necessarily the kind that you pick up at work, but rather the residual stress of life, the kind that we carry since we are little.
And yes, there is a pattern. Our bodies adopt a coping strategy from birth, and the stresses we face get lodged in different places. You can hopefully unclench them, but once you stress up again, it is likely that the new stress will be felt in the same place.
Unblocking the body
Here is what I am experiencing. The cranial-sacral massage therapist I have been seeing has found that my upper back is the locus of greatest stress in my body. This is an area of my body I had not really thought of—in other words, I was not feeling that it was hurting or that it was stiff, or anything. In fact, the thought hadn’t occurred to me. Other parts of my body, yes, but not there.
The same day I saw her for the first time, though, I had gone for a traditional massage, and there, I noticed that the masseuse encountered a series of knots in my upper back. I could tell she was not going to get rid of them. At the cranial-sacral therapists, one of the knots spontaneously untied, and it felt like it just popped. And my talk therapist also used the bubble metaphor, just randomly connecting to that, telling me during guided meditation to pop the bubbles of stress that were inside me one by one.
But these stress bubbles, especially these deep stress bubbles, aren’t there just because I had a rough day at work, or was just stressed out about something or other. They relate to “trauma”, carried issues, emotional challenges experienced through life and never dealt with. Why does that matter? Because I wonder whether you can “pop” them by physical means.
We all know the expression “wrestling with our demons”. I am beginning to think it is a very apt metaphor. These demons are very much emotional issues, and we wrestle with them to resolve them and kick them out. But some of them represent really challenging issues, things that can take a lifetime to overcome, if ever, but no matter what, will take effort to exorcise. Not dealing with them (the knots) is a perverse kind of comfort.
And I am beginning to think that these knots in my body are metaphorical demons. And they have taken up residence in my body. Each one is a memory, or an issue, and they have grown quite comfortable there. After all, they took up residence in the first place, because they weren’t dealt with properly when they first emerged. And that means, my default personality allowed them to settle in, or actually put them there. To get rid of them requires change, development, growth.
While all of that is rewarding, none of it comes easy…it is often easiest to just “stay as we are”. The reason that I am thinking about this so much, is that my back is killing me. There is nothing I have done that would have caused it, other than kick the emotional hornets nest of whatever issues I have absorbed into my body and are taking up residence there.
And I think that all of this work I am doing, with Mistress, with a therapist, with various massage therapists, is like giving a full-frontal assault to these issues. And while I may be approaching it with an open heart, and desirous of resolution, it takes more than that, a lot more. And as such, the part of my body that was comfortable with being the way it was that put those stresses there, is finding that its own comfort is being challenged. And so yes, in a way, the stress is fighting back. It does have a mind of its own. And the demons are well and truly hanging on.
I just now need to broaden my arsenal.