There’s really no shortage of life stressors. For many people, chronic stress has become a way of life. For others, a dramatic life event or circumstance has tipped the balance, as when you’ve suffered one or more life-changing losses and are feeling emotionally devastated. Still others are grappling with a combination of both ongoing and acute stress. Whatever your unique situation and circumstances, when you need to stop the free-fall of your misery, no matter which aspect of it is gripping you at the moment, it’s helpful to think of yourself on three distinct yet interrelated levels.
“The body keeps the score,” goes one saying, while another quips, “the issues are in the tissues.” The truth is that your body is absolutely the best barometer where your stress is concerned. Every body system reacts to stress and alters its functioning in some way to try to help you mobilize an effective response. Such mobilization, while adaptive in a crisis, is problematic when called upon over and over again because it overwhelms the body’s internal resources which were not designed to be under constant siege. Learning to listen to yourself on the level of your body’s stress responses is key to the basic skills and practices of The New Plan A. Mindfulness practice – non-judgmental, compassionate observation – is how you do it.
“Mind” refers to what goes on in your head: the thoughts you think in response to what happens in your life, the beliefs you hold most deeply and the ways they inform the meaning you make out of life events, however mundane or cataclysmic, and the overall running commentary of your inner “narrator.” Raising your awareness of this cognitive or “cerebral” dimension of your experience is another key to the basic skills and practices of The New Plan A as it is directly related to your visceral (body) stress response and plays a big role in exacerbating your overall stress.
By “spirit” I am referring to moods, feelings, and emotional inclinations. Spirit is intricately interconnected with body and mind even as it can seem to have a “mind” of its own. There is mystery, idiosyncrasy, and uniqueness to this tender human realm and there is much to say about it. Most important where The New Plan A is concerned is the task of gaining skill at being less caught up in your own emotion even as you are in the grip of it. As odd as it might sound, you can learn to do this with surprisingly simple practices. The catch? You’ll need to practice , practice, practice. But since every day brings new grist for that mill, you’ll have lots of opportunities! All you need is the intention and the willingness to do it. Comparing the prize (reduced emotional suffering and enhanced emotional wellbeing) with the price you’ll pay for it (simply practicing new ways of paying attention to yourself), it’s like getting a diamond ring out of a gumball machine. Try it and see for yourself.