Stress, Fatigue, and the Body

Stress, Fatigue, and the Body

Summer 2003

I have recently noticed from patients and friends alike, that many of us are experiencing a new level of fatigue. As if we weren’t already pushing ourselves to the limit, most of us are deeply affected by recent world events. It doesn’t matter whether you support the current administration – we all care for our countrymen and soldiers. We all care about the Iraqi citizens. And we all hope for greater peace, freedom, and safety for our world. Yet how able are we to support one another in these times of added stress when we don’t even know how to simply take care of ourselves?

Do you know how to listen to your body? I mean REALLY listen? Sure, most of us know how to listen to our exhaustion as we drag ourselves to bed and fall into unconsciousness. Or worse, we’re so wound up that we are unable to sleep. We also know to listen to our body once it speaks up in pain – like a 4 year old it shouts, “Hey, you’re hurting ME!”

We know how to listen to the demands of the outside world. In the morning we’re busy rushing to get ourselves and our family out the door. At work, we’re trying to meet the demands of our boss and the endless tasks at hand. Meanwhile, our minds are busy making “to do” lists for shopping, cleaning, and, oh yeah, it’s time for those spring chores.

But when was the last time any of us paused to experience a FULL BREATH? The air being drawn into the nose or mouth, inflating our lungs, lifting the ribs, and during the exhale, shoulders drop and the neck relaxes. Or we pause and feel our feet fully touching the floor, connecting and supporting our legs, hips, pelvis and back. We can learn to connect to the support from the ground or our chair so that our upper back and neck does not suffer from fatigue at the end of the day.

Additionally, most of us have spent a lifetime training our minds to think in self-defeating patterns. We support the belief that our bodies are meant to deteriorate as we age, and run to the doctor for insomnia, ulcers, and the aches in our bodies. Alternately, we can listen to the wisdom of many health experts and learn to give ourselves pause to quiet our thoughts and settle into our bodies.

To learn to bring our attention back to ourselves in the moment takes discipline and desire. What if you were to give yourself just 5 minutes a day? 1-2 minutes in the morning and the evening for a moment of quiet meditation, contemplation, or prayer. Then several other 15 second moments throughout the day to just breathe, feel, and pause. Many of us would find that even this is difficult. As I said, since we were young, we have been exercising our minds to think, think, think. However, a few moments a day of decompression can multiply the moments of pleasurable existence.

So, how do we take these moments for ourselves? The trick is remembering to do this and building these moments into your day. It is usually when we feel “bad” that we are reminded to do something for ourselves. In contrast, when we feel “good” (i.e.; energetic, clear-headed, task-focused, etc.) we just want to keep “accomplishing” – until we run out of steam. Thus, our accomplishments have become our addiction. We can set up ways to remind ourselves to pause throughout the day, but we must have clear intention, balanced with self-compassion.

A commitment to one’s Self, is also a commitment to family, friends, and community. The more centered we are physically and emotionally, the more balance we can support in the lives of others. Why not use the intensity of the world news as a reminder to bring ourselves back to the “home” of our bodies: To breathe, to pause, and to be grateful that we live in the wealthiest, most abundant country in the world? May we use this gift well by finding a place of peace within ourselves that we can share with others.