Sleeping on Sandwiches - Day 2
What I Do Before I Walk in the Door
What's really going on here? I mean, what am I actually doing in my body when I encounter a stressful situation? I've been thinking about this a lot. As an Alexander Technique teacher I am aware that we all do "basically" the same thing when we're stressed, whether it's a stressful conversation with a family member or straining doing computer work, trying to make a deadline. We pull down and in to ourselves. We all generally have the same basic human structure and we do the same basic things to compromise it in order to cope with unpleasant situations and demands that we feel put pressure on us. Within those parameters of what most of us do, there are a lot of interesting nuances and I see it all the time in my students. How about in me? How do I respond to stress and how do I deal with it?
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I'm taking account of how different my behavior is with my family compared to how I respond in many other day-to-day situations. Being with my family is generally stressful for me. Here's how so, and I'll start with what I observe happening when I walk in the door. This is something that you can do to. Notice how you feel right before entering a situation. If you really pay attention, you might notice little things that you do that you were unaware of. It might not even feel like you are doing them. It may feel like they are happening to you, but my guess is that you are doing them. Right when I'm opening the door, I can feel my tongue tightening. Not the tip of my tongue, but the back and bottom of my tongue. The tongue actually goes pretty far back. I also feel my solar plexus area shrinking back into my ribcage.
How I trick myself . . . I can easily trick myself into thinking that none of this is happening. I feel my feet on the floor. I'm aware of the top of my head. I clearly feel that I'm inhabiting my back, not tightening the back of my neck and not squeezing my lower back. I feel all of the things that I used to be so unaware - where my back is in space, grounded, that I'm reaching my full height and not squishing down in any big way. But, wait, my breathing feels shallow and I still feel kind of stiff. Oh, I'm creating a huge amount of tension in my tongue, the front of my neck, and in that very sensitive solar plexus area that's full of nerve endings. What am I doing? I'm pulling back before I've walked in the door. I'm defending myself against emotional discomfort, but the defense doesn't feel comfortable either. I'm preparing to protect myself and disengage from the challenges of negotiating with my kids, trying to have longer than a 5-second conversation with my partner without interruption, and the stress of helping my partner navigate his own anxieties.
The Dilemma . . . How do I interact with these three lovely people who I speak so highly of to other folks, but when we all get together we easily reach gridlock and end up frustrated and unhappy? I'm not the only one contributing to the gridlock, but how what is my contribution and what can I contribute to unlock it?
The Attitude . . . I think that the answer starts when I walk in the door. What I've observed myself doing when I enter my home or meet up with my family anywhere after having spent part of the day apart is a physical response to how I feel about the situation. I'm taking on an attitude. I'm reacting to stress before I've even encountered it. I'm anticipating and then end up bringing that attitude to the situation and feel instantly frustrated, impatient, overwhelmed, and detached. An attitude is physical (I pull back), emotional (I feel overwhelmed), and intellectual (I'm annoyed). They're kind of all the same thing, right?
Change . . . The way to change isn't to flatten my tongue and push out my stomach so that it doesn't pull in. That just creates more conflict. Now that I've identified what I'm doing, I observe it and gently tell myself to stay present and to feel myself in the space I'm in on all sides. So, if my tendency is to pull in my front, I think about filling out the space in front of me, being 3-dimensional, and allow myself to breath. I tell myself that I don't know what will happen and I make a point to react more positively, in unusual ways that may feel different that how I want to react. For example, I offer my partner a compliment and tell him how much I appreciate him when I'm feeling annoyed or unsure how to deal with his anxiety. I jump into an activity with my kids when I feel like retreating and taking a nap. If decide that I do want to pull away, I choose an activity that will intrigue my kids and invite them to join in or watch me - like making something instead of checking my email (let's hit that refresh button one more time! I don't find this easy and it can be downright painful, and I don't always succeed, but that comes with the territory of changing habits and successful change is incredibly rewarding as I've learned in changing my attitudes and habitual reactions to other situations.
How do you feel right before you enter a stressful situation and are you able to change your attitude?