Here are the physical signs of stress and what you can do about them

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By Claire Seabrook, Craniosacral Therapist

If you’re tired, tearful and constantly fending off aches and pains, it may feel as if there’s only way through it: do the best you can to stay healthy, ignore the feelings, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But meanwhile, all this is wearing you down and holding you hostage from what you really want to be doing in your life.

When you’re doing everything ‘right’ to take care of your health and still feel like you’re stuck in a revolving door of exhausting discomforts, you may start to wonder whether it all has to do with some stress that you’re under, something you’re holding in so you can keep going. Maybe even something that goes back a long way. Something you can’t quite name, but you know it’s there.

In my experience as a craniosacral therapist and mind-body practitioner, most recurring symptoms that aren’t responding fully to physical treatment start to shift when we explore what else is going on in your life that’s affecting you.

This doesn’t mean it’s ‘all in your head’. It does mean that our bodies and minds are so closely connected that they work as one.

Why does stress show up in our body?

We’re familiar with this interplay of mind and body when we feel emotions – our heart leaping when we see someone we love, anxious butterflies in our stomach, an angry tight jaw, our toes curling from embarrassment.

Our emotions are meant to come and go. But the difficult emotions that we try to ignore don’t flow through. Instead they get held in our body as tension.

If we can process the emotion at some point and move on, all well and good. But most of us have learned to push feelings aside – for a host of understandable reasons – and then we don’t address them. The emotions that we don’t let ourselves acknowledge and integrate can’t move through our body and ease away.

Our neck, shoulders, jaw, back and pelvis are common places to hold emotion in our body, and the muscles there can be contracted for years before we notice a symptom. So it’s often hard to see the connection.

How can you tell if your symptoms are connected with stress?

Stress-related symptoms can be vague and may also be signs of other health problems, so it’s important to discuss them with your doctor. You may be getting headaches, digestive upsets, tight jaw, aches, pains and tense muscles, grinding your teeth at night, or have trouble sleeping. You may find that you’re easily agitated, on edge or moody. You may feel overwhelmed and needing to control things. You may find it difficult to relax and quieten your mind. You may feel bad about yourself, as if all this is a sign of weakness in some way.

At this point you may be thinking, actually I’d prefer not to delve into my difficult emotions. It’s hard enough as it is, thanks all the same.

But it’s worth getting curious about how our emotional life is affecting our health. Although there are a lot of good treatments to relieve stress symptoms for a while, if the underlying tension isn’t resolved it will just start up again. And it’s all very wearing, as we know.

How to help your emotions flow naturally

If you suspect there may be some emotional stress behind your symptoms, here are some tips for starting to ease the flow of your emotions.

Take a moment to settle and take in a lovely deep breath of kindness. This is a time for compassion and gentle connection with yourself.

Have the intention to just allow your awareness to rest in your whole body, and sense into your body just as it is. Simply being aware that emotions may come to the surface, and being willing to welcome them is a huge step towards releasing them.

Breathe gently into your belly, encouraging your breath to deepen naturally. Feel the space opening up in your body as you breathe. This helps you to stay present in your body and allow any emotions that may come up to flow.

Rest quietly in your body, being open to any sensations that seem connected to emotions. If you notice any emotional sensations like heavy or sinking feelings, hollowness, constriction in your chest or belly, jittering or swirling, heat or chilliness; or you feel tears or anger welling up, be curious about the sensations, gently allow them to be there, and breathe softly down into your belly.

At this stage you’re not looking to analyse or understand why you’re having the emotions. It may feel strange at first to be feeling things in your body rather than thinking about them. But just being willing to be present with the body-sensations of your emotions opens the way to deeper insight about them.

Consider getting support whether one-to-one or with other people in group setting like a workshop, retreat or healing circle. Many people find lasting pain relief and feel more in control of their health when they learn how to process the emotional patterns that are contributing to the stress and tension in the first place.

Enjoy a break from being in your head, and get into your body with practices like yoga, dance or walking in nature. Have fun, experiment and find out what works best for you.

Like any skill, cultivating your awareness of your body and emotions takes time and practice. Sometimes it takes support and guidance to connect all the dots, and understand what your symptoms want you to know.

But the pay-off is that as your trust in your body’s wisdom grows, as you see with compassionate eyes your patterns and your stuck places, you discover that inside that seemingly random cycle of tiredness, tears, aches and pains is actually a roadmap to what really matters to you and the life you want to live.

It feels like coming home to yourself.

Claire Seabrook runs Mind Body De-stress workshops at The Isbourne on a regular basis. To find out when the next one is head to isbourne.org