Hello, I hope you are having a good week. In this week’s article we will be continuing our exploration of stress and the body by focusing on what happens to our limbs. After which I will introduce you to another stress reducing exercise to try out over the next week. So let’s get started.
Our limbs are ready to fight or run from stress
You will remember from last week that the heart works faster in a stress response to give blood to the limbs. This gives us the best chance of survival as we may need that extra energy in our legs and arms to fight or run from the danger, aptly named the Fight or Flight response. Commonly when we are stressed there is no immediate danger to fight or run from. Our brains interpret stress as a threat/danger therefore, as soon as we are stressed the automatic Fight or Flight response is triggered. We may feel tingling or pins and needles in our hands, feet, arms and legs. This is blood rushing to our limbs at such a fast rate. It can feel uncomfortable. It may feel like restless legs and we might feel the need to start walking or shake out our arms. Some people experience stress in a more aggressive manner and may have the urge to punch or kick.
For some of us this sensation of blood moving to our limbs is frightening. If we are unaware of what is happening, we may misinterpret the sensations of stress to mean something life threatening. For example if we are aware of the tingling feelings only on one side of our body, we may think that we are having a stroke. The thought of having a stroke exasperates our sense of danger and more blood is released to our limbs. Many people have called the emergency services mistaking stress for a stroke.
Another sensation which is commonly experienced is needing a pee or bowel movement. This is explained by the blood, which normally surrounds the bladder, bowel and other vital organs, temporarily being pumped to the limbs for Flight or Fight. This can be incredibly worrying for people when in a public place that they will not get to a toilet in time. It may lead people to stay at home or pre-plan toilet stops when out because they are worried they will have an bowel or badder accident in public.
Making sense of the sensations
The sensations of tingling in our limbs and needing the toilet is normal during stress. If you feel either of these when stressed there is nothing to worry about. It is your natural automatic survival response. All you need to do is recognise that your brain believes it is in immediate danger and is preparing your body to survive. It is important to allow your body to feel safe again, as the Fight or Flight response is intended to be temporary. We can do this by slowing down the breath. Slowing the breath will slow down our heart rate, which will slow down our blood pumping to our limbs and allow the blood to return to the vital organs. This will reduce the sensations of tingling in our limbs and needing to use the toilet.
The Body Breathing Exercise – to slow down the breath when feeling stressed
In the previous article I introduced the Simple Breathing exercise of breath-ing-in and breath-ing-out. The body breathing exercise is a longer breathing exercise and uses calming words. It is important not to hold your breath at any point and to find a rhythm that feels comfortable for you.
Take some time to focus on your breath using the simple breathing exercise then when you are ready, breathe in slowly saying the words in your mind “my body” then on your out breath slowly say in your mind “is relaxing”. As you breathe out imagine any tension slowly leaving your body with your breath. Breathe several times saying this phrase and become aware of your body. You may notice that you are feeling stressed in a certain area of your body. For example maybe you feel tingling in your arms. If this is the case on the in breath slowing say “my arms” and on the out breath slowly say “are relaxing”. Let your arms feel heavier and allow any tension to disappear. You may want to imagine that the tension is flowing out through your finger tips as you breath. Do this as many times with as many body parts that you feel tension or for as long as you can make the time for. To end practice you may want to breathe in and say “my whole body” and on your out breath “is relaxed”. Allow your whole body to feel heavier and enjoy the sensation of tensions leaving your body. When you are ready to finish the practice, slowly allow your attention to return to what you were doing and thank yourself for taking the time out of your day to practice.
Words of care
It is okay if you don’t feel relaxed at the end of this exercise. Commonly people say that their minds are just too focused on trying to think themselves out of stress. Maybe you will have thoughts of what you are meant to be doing or maybe you will have thoughts that this exercise is wasting time or pointless. It is normal that our minds respond this way. It takes a lot of practice to focus our minds. Even those who have been practicing breathing exercises and mediation for years are distracted by their thoughts at times. How many other thoughts you have during your practice is not a measure of how well you are relaxing. Lots of thoughts may just be a sign that we are more stressed than other times when we are less distracted by thoughts. Understanding tensions in our body when stressed and focusing on our breath are big steps in reducing stress. So please compliment yourself for spending the time to learn how to manage your stress.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did please like and share. Next week we will look at the impact of stress on our blood pressure including fainting when we are stressed. Have a great week.