Do you experience emotions without some corresponding physical manifestation? I doubt it. Anger, fear, sadness, stress all tend to crop up physically as well as mentally: you get that hit of adrenaline, your muscles tighten up, and you’re on the emotional ride.
You might not even remember why you feel stressed! I’ve had to sometimes think through my day to remember why I feel stressed when I had such lingering stress artifacts. Once found, the logical question is whether carrying that stress forward is warranted. Usually it isn’t.
But what if this residual stress echo is brought with us over days, months, or years?
Anything can turn into a habit if we practice it enough, and that goes for those physical reactions as well. If we were to break down our physical habits and catalogue all unnecessary muscle use, we would find that some, if not most, of it is practiced stress carried into non-stressful situations.
If you’re singing with this residual stress, you will sound stressed because your muscles are acting stressed. You will behave stressed. You may feel stressed mentally because your body is acting stressed. And by feeling stressed mentally, we reinforce the physical stress.
It’s a stress feedback loop.
The first two places to look for this feedback loop are:
- Your solar plexus (the point in your abdominals between the floating ribs). This will manifest through abdominal tightness and a torso collapsed in and around the solar plexus.
- The atlanto-occipital joint (the point where your head meets your neck). This will be tight, and you’ll be trying to shorten your neck by pulling your head down and back.
Take a moment right now and divert some attention to one of these points and then the other. Breathe into them and soften them. By releasing them, they will expand on their own. Let them. It’s a subtle feeling, but I’ve found that it feels good.
Ideally, it needs to be practiced away from stressful situations because it’s hard to form new habits deliberately when we’re under stress. That’s where a practice like meditation comes in: it reintroduces us to ourselves in the most mundane circumstances (breathing, walking, sitting) and lets us re-habituate how we think and use our bodies.
It’s easier to see how stress changes us when our default is calm. But if we’re chronically stressed, the change isn’t as perceptible.
Nevertheless, next time you’re in a stressful situation, try and divert some awareness to these two points. Are you pulling your head down and back? Are you tightening your solar plexus and pulling yourself down and inward? If yes, then try and let go of that, and in so doing you may free yourself from much of the stress that the situation would otherwise provoke.
Try to break the loop.
PS. These are not exclusively my original ideas. The idea of physical stress leading to mental stress as a feedback loop was taught to me by my teacher Andrew Zimmerman who learned from his practice and study of Alexander Technique.