In the article “Listen to Your Body” you will find some examples of ways in which we can cause our bodies (us) to feel pain and how our bodies can often give us the first warning that something in our life is out of balance. It’s a good idea, therefore, to keep our bodies, our whole physical being, in good shape. This is a very good way of combating stress.
It is hard to avoid knowing that we need to exercise our muscles and work out regularly to keep our bones strong and healthy, and you will find a number of references to this activity in other articles. And there are other aspects of our physical makeup which benefit from recognition that they exist and from the gift of a treat now and then, an acknowledgment of what they are capable of. We have senses, which we use all the time and ignore most of the time. They are parts of our early warning system and also sources of great enjoyment when we allow them to be. Enjoyment can reduce stress.
1. How long is it since you looked at someone or something and enjoyed the sight for its own sake, for its own inherent beauty or significance? Beauty is subjective and we will never all agree about the Mona Lisa or the Angel of the North, and yet most of us have some sight which we will drink in through our eyes when we can. Many of us have a favourite view, a favourite picture, a quality of light which can bring us peace or excitement or a sense of fulfillment. How many of us carry with us a photograph or digital image of someone we love, so that we can feast on it in odd moments? Notice that the words ‘drink’ and ‘feast’ have cropped up – sights really seen and appreciated can be taken right in, where they nourish and refresh our memories so that we can call them up when the real thing is absent. And there is so much to see, if we allow ourselves the time to look.
2. What is your favourite sound? The steady breathing of a sleeping child? The sound of running water? Of birdsong? Of a particular piece of music? The snoring of a beloved old dog? Familiar footsteps running towards you? The supporters singing their team to victory as a difficult match draws to a close? And how often do you allow yourself to stop for long enough to really listen and hear and take pleasure in that sound? It takes only a second or two for that pleasure to have a profound positive impact on your state of mind and the stress and tension in your body.
3. Think about your favourite scents and smells, about the powerful effect they can have on your memory. Notice what a strong reaction you have. Do you have one favourite smell or is there a whole group which conjure up people, places, meals? Have you recently encountered a new scent which has made an impact on you? Many of us share the same rewarding scents: newly cut grass, a baby’s skin, basil, lilies, toast; we are divided over garlic, eggs, petrol, horse; we are almost uniform in our dislike of smells associated with malfunction, whether of human illness or chemical leaks. We take in scents with every breath, and sadly most of us have forgotten how to recognize them unless they are strong and extreme.
Try standing outside your home or workplace for five minutes, and spending one minute on seeing, one on hearing and one on scents and smells. Then take the other two minutes to reflect on what you have experienced. For five minutes you will have concentrated on aspects of yourself (and your environment) in a spirit of enquiry and curiosity. Perhaps you will have learned something new about yourself and your responses to that environment, you will almost certainly have moved away from whatever was absorbing you indoors. When you go back in you will be a little bit refreshed and better able to concentrate. You will have taken a break, perhaps had a new experience, in no more time than it takes to get yourself a drink. Don’t be afraid to give it a try.
And yes, we do have other senses not yet considered.
4. Taste is very closely linked to smell. People who lose their sense of smell find it difficult to experience different tastes. Use yours, take the time to enjoy the various flavours of your food. Try something new, and try not to swallow without letting the unfamiliar food stay in your mouth. Explore its texture, the way its flavour changes as it comes into contact with your sensitive tongue, the changes in its substance as you chew. If the taste is unpleasant, the chances are that the substance is not the best thing for you – you don’t have to swallow everything. The more you practise the more discerning your palate will become, the better you will become at really appreciating the whole process of eating and drinking. It is absolutely a good thing to give your food this time and attention – your digestion will improve as well as your sense of taste.
5. Reaching out to touch the new and the unknown is a deep-seated instinct, otherwise why would museums and galleries and shops all be full of notices saying “Please do not touch”. And the sense we are wariest about exercising is touch, as we pull back from physical contact with strangers and teach our children to do the same. Sadly, we are losing the broader appreciation of what touch can mean. Our largest organ is our skin (about 12 square feet of it, packed with sensitivity!), and it is not restricted to our hands, although they are probably the part of us we use most in the context of touch. If you have ever walked barefoot along a beach on a warm day, try to remember the feeling of the sand trickling between your toes. And don’t forget to notice it when you have the opportunity to take the walk again. Think about the extraordinarily powerful grip of a tiny baby on one of your fingers, the whole miniature fist concentrated on keeping contact with you. Experience the water flowing over your whole body as you shower or take a bath, and the battering of the waves if you brave the sea. If you can, enjoy the wind and the rain on your face and your hair, really let yourself feel their impact, rather than concentrating entirely on the umbrella which refuses to open. After all, you will get just as wet. There is nothing quite as soft as the fur behind a dog’s ear, nor as painful as a cat scratch or a wasp sting. Touch is a two-way experience, it links us with what we are touching in an immediate physical way. It is about relationship, whether with another living being or with some material thing.
No activity suggested in this article will take much time out of your day. Most are about different ways of experiencing the life we are living anyway, and what they will do is to remind us that we are more than automatons working till we get overheated trying to fit more than is possible into our lives. If we stop for breath now and then we will achieve more than if we try to keep going, and this will reduce our stress on two levels: one, that we have stopped and given ourselves a break, and two, that we recognize that we are working better as a result.
If you feel that you need help in dealing with the stress that had built up in you, try getting in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services, by calling 0121 314 9903, or via our website: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk One of qualified and experienced counsellors will be able to work with you, offering help and support as you tackle whatever is worrying you.