We carry stress without knowing it.
We easily accept stress that is ongoing, especially from persisting or cyclical demands. Think of a time when your child was struggling, and you couldn’t fix the struggle. Perhaps you cared for an aging parent without respite or bumped up against a daily, loathed task. Maybe it’s finances—a constant stressor for many.
Stress Likes to Hide: Suppression
Stress is insidious, slipping beneath the surface of our consciousness with barely a blip. The process happens so fast we don’t cognitively recognize anything has happened. It’s not like we think, “Hmm, some stress, I hate that; I’ll just push it down to the subconscious level.” It just happens, and it happens for a reason: this is a natural, protective mechanism of the body called suppression.
Did you catch that? The body is protecting you. It recognizes you don’t have space to address the stressful feelings or the source of them. So it obliges by pushing the stress down, away from consciousness.
Sometimes We Trigger the Suppression Mechanism
In my experience, while I’m not consciously aware I’m suppressing, there is usually a small thought that crosses my mind:
“Just a little bit longer,…”
“Well, I can’t get out of this,”
“There’s no help for this; I have to be strong.”
Do you see how fixed, or closed, these statements feel? It’s as easy as that. I’ve told my body, “There is no time or space to feel, express, or shift this stress.” The body hears this as a “no,” and accepts the impact of it in a heartbeat.
We Can Only Suppress Stress for So Long
Eventually, however, the loving, supportive body cannot absorb more stress. It begins to turn up the awareness—first in a little tension, perhaps a headache or two. You become aware emotions are bubbling at the edge of your awareness. There is a vague sense of unease, and something doesn’t feel right. Maybe you sense underlying fragility in yourself.
You might pay attention to those feelings and allow that awareness to grow. Often, though, we are distracted and busy. We hyperfocus on a problem that exists directly in front of us (convenient, hey?) and not on the one we supressed a while ago (the one everyone knows can’t be changed).
So the body—because it is loving and wants to be healthy—turns up the heat a little. Irritability cranks up. Your back is killing you and you can’t sleep at night. You feel unhappy when you felt okay just days ago. You feel unsettled and anxious. What the heck is going on?
It’s just your stress, saying hi—asking for attention.
You Can Choose to Support Yourself
Dear ones, this is when it is time to feel it.
Do it in whatever way works best for you. Write, paint, run, cry, scream, dance, breathe through silence, practice yoga, shake, pray it out. Whatever has worked for you in the past, invite it forward to help you now. This is the time to tell others, “I am taking space.” I realize this can be difficult for people without support; I still ask you to do whatever it takes to process your stress.
Why Working Through Stress is Important
“Why, Naomi? Why should I feel it if I can’t do anything about it?”
1. Stress Introduces Conflict to Our Bodies
First, our bodies are filled with energy. Everything that we perceive or experience passes through our energetic body—or doesn’t pass, if we suppress it. If we continue to push it down, the body will move into a state of crisis. It has no choice; it is not meant to function under stress for long periods of time. However, carrying unnoticed stress creates internal conflict. If we allow ourselves to acknowledge that conflict, the body, mind, and heart shift back into connection and ease.
It can look like this: “Oh, I’m really stressed about my mom in the hospital. It’s really hard for me to see her suffer, and it’s hard to have to drive there every day and neglect the other things in my life.” Then, a moment to breathe deeply and allow the stress to come out—maybe tears, a shudder, a scream. Don’t be afraid of the strength of the feeling; it is only emotional energy, and it will move through you and fade away.
2. We Miss Opportunities
Secondly, when we suppress the stress, we miss the possibilities: supports and solutions. Even in stress, there is a way to sit back, deep inside yourself, and ask: “What do I not see that is important for me to see? What could be helpful in this situation? What do I need? And what could change, if I was open to possibilities?”
When I Let the Stress Come Up
This month I experienced this whole cycle again. I became aware of my own fragility—my inner resources were hitting rock bottom. Over the space of a couple days, I allowed myself to sit (*cough* cry a lot *cough*) with this suppressed stress. It told me where it came from and how impossible it was to continue living like that. I set a couple of boundaries to help myself.
But then, I remembered how months before, a possibility for change had occurred to me. I pushed it away because I wanted to try a little longer to maintain status quo; making the change would require more of me than I wanted to give at that time. I had told myself, “Just a little longer. Just get to the end, that’s all you have to do. Yeah, it’s hard, but there’s no help for it.” (pandemic, amirite?)
Bingo, did you see it? The moment when I told my stress “no?”
When The Possibilities Speak
When I addressed the stress and acknowledged my needs, I realized someone else had needs in the situation. I asked my Inner Voice, my guidance system, what I needed to know about this person’s needs and heard It speak about new possibilities. Then I talked with the person. It solved so much.
No, the situation is not 100% resolved. Now that I’m aware that this is a source of stress for me, I can notice when I feel just a bit of tension, before it grows into something bigger. Staying in touch with myself means that I can move out of fear almost as quickly as fear comes up. I can stay in the zone of possibility rather than the energy of “no.”
Willingness to witness suppressed feelings of stress can shift so much about a situation. Sometimes only one thing needs to shift to change the whole outlook. When the stress fades, the body moves out of tension and illness and back into alignment. The shift opens awareness to possible solutions, and we breathe a sigh of relief.