Thursday, June 16, 2011

conditioned stress?

For the past few days, I've been experiencing mysterious stomachaches and headaches. I've been thinking about anything I'm doing that may be different or out of the ordinary... well, other than the fact that we just moved to a new apartment recently, everything else has been the same. Same kind of food. Same exercise. Sleep - well, that is another story.

And then I realized, I had been putting myself under premature stress in anticipation of my written comprehensives (a major rite of passage in my academic program) which officially began yesterday.

So I thought: why do I do this to myself? I put myself under undue stress over something that was not even happening yet. It's almost as if I had been conditioned to be under constant stress such that even when the stressor is not actually present (yet), I am already bracing myself for the upcoming event. Even my left eyelid is already throbbing from time to time (just like when I was under stress in May from working on a big project). And then I thought to myself - my eyes feel strained already??? And I haven't even started on the major computer work yet! The truth is, I am making myself feel sick.

Now this is a hard truth for me to admit to myself (and even more so here on this blog). For someone who is aspiring for balance, I really should have learned this lesson a long time ago!

But the good news is... if these physical symptoms of stress are really rooted in our mental state, then we can learn to control it. Now this is not breakthrough information; just something I'm constantly trying to learn.

So today I'm breaking down my project into manageable tasks and creating timelines for myself. Organizing my physical workspace to allow a better workflow, with necessary files and books within easy access. Just having moved, things are not perfectly organized yet, but it's getting there.

I'm also adding some inspirational, non-work "things" on my work desk. Such as the collage I made at a retreat a few years ago.

And on the other side of my office is my yoga sanctuary, my sacred space. A corner of the room just right for my yoga mat, my yoga books, and other props. A physical reminder to take a deep breath, do some asanas, sit quietly, or go into savasana whenever needed.

But at the root of it is not just the organization of the physical space (although it helps!), is really controlling the mind. As in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga chitta vritti nirodha = "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind." So, we practice yoga in order to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind.

I don't think I can ever take away stress from my life. In some ways, there are healthy levels of stress - or at least when stress is managed in a healthy way. Which is what I'm learning. So that instead of feeling conditioned by stress, I can then condition myself to address it and respond to it in a positive, productive manner.

But it's also learning to give myself credit. After I completed that big project in May, at the end of it I really had to remind myself not to say, "I think I did a pretty good job..." - which is what I'm more inclined to think, in a second-guessing, hard-on-myself type of way... but instead, "Heck I did a damn good job!" Hey, we all need affirmations, right?

And so begins my project for the next four weeks... and throughout this time, my goal is not just to complete the project, but to complete it with a greater degree of mental and emotional well-being intact.

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Jen said...

Such an important and courageous insight, Mia. It's painful to admit how we contribute to our stress (I know from personal experience, too!). So glad to see you're making self-care a priority ... what a beautiful, calming space you've created for yourself!

Mia said...

Hi Jen! Yes - I realized the hard way that I do make my own stress, and it's hard to un-learn! But yes, I am loving my little yoga corner :) It has all my favorite things, including the box of questions you gave me last Christmas!

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