Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: www.pikist.com
We’ve been on holiday with the whole family for about 5 days now. We’re in a house in the middle of nature. There are 14 of us in total: 8 adults and 6 children between the ages of 2 and 8.
The past few days have been lovely. The children have enjoyed nature, playing together and the hikes we’ve taken. The adults have played games, cooked and enjoyed the relief that comes from knowing there are other eyes also watching over your children.
I love to laugh with my family these days, enjoy the food they cook (something I avoid if I can), and bond with the children, my own and my niece and nephews. It’s also the first long trip me and my partner are taking together, and it’s really wonderful to have him around.
But there are things that I need to keep in mind as well. I am someone who needs alone time. Social interactions take up a lot of energy and I need to be on my own to process and recharge. It’s easy for me to dive into other people’s stories and let go of my own, which means I need to consciously tune into how I’m feeling, what I want and what I need on a regular basis. In other years, I wouldn’t even realise when things were getting too much. I’d just sense this feeling of unease, become irritable at times and get tense. Our brain is very good at creating stories when we don’t understand our own feelings, and the stories I told myself usually involved other people: They are getting really wound up! Can’t those kids just listen to me now? It’s clear that no one really cares how I feel right now.
But, since I’ve started tuning into my own feelings more, and since I’ve accepted for myself that I’m allowed to ask for what I need, I’m more weary of those stories (though they are far from gone!). I now take the moments when I’m fully alone, during part of a walk, the shower or while writing this post, to notice the tension in my body. For me it’s most noticeable in my jaws, my shoulders and my arms. I consciously relax those muscles and by the difference I can sense how tensely I’ve been walking around without even noticing it. I have rather strong commitment anxiety and my current partner also knows how important it is to be aware of that anxiety (and lovingly encourages me to take responsibility for my own needs in that matter).
As I’m going through the days, knowing that I won’t be in my own house and my own space for a week, I’m learning some tricks that are helping me to release some steam and lower the pressure. Perhaps you might find them useful to:
- Express what I feel. Having my partner there to whom I can express everything, including the stories my brain is making up about those things and the realisation later that it’s only a story after all (no shame in saying I was wrong) is proving really helpful. Sharing that tension usually instantly takes it down a few notches. And for him it works the same way. We do a check-out every night talking about how the day went and making sure we have a moment for just the two of us.
- Shaking it off, literally. Relieving tension through shaking is a great instant trick. The effect is temporary, but it’s also a great way to push in the ‘pause’ button when I’m about to blow up. Thus, it also helps me prevent things from getting worse if they are already going sour. In that way it’s also extremely valuable as a preventative measure.
- Writing about it. I can use my notebook and do a writing meditation, or write a blog post (tadaa!) or use light language* to explore my own stories and what’s behind them. Shining a light on things helps me get them clearer and take other measures as well. But the act of writing in itself has also proven to lower anxiety and to release feelings such as fear, anger and sadness.
- Sleeping alone. One of the wonderful things about my partner (there are many, and yes, he reads this blog) is that he is learning not to take it personal when my needs conflict with what he wants. Because I’m also a big pleaser, taking what I need is difficult when I know it goes against another person’s desires. Even if my partner would prefer to sleep together, he doesn’t make me feel guilty but actually encourages me to sleep alone when I feel the pressure is building up. By morning much of it has already dissipated.
- Dive into a book. But it matters which book. It can help to temporarily escape the pressure inside by ignoring it and reading a great thriller, but it’ll just be waiting for you when you close the cover again. The right book, however, can also help you to put perspective on how you feel and offer you insight into what’s going on in your head. Many books from the personal development section fit that bill, but there are also works of fiction that can do the same.
- Meditation. It’s at the bottom of the list. It’s not my go-to option to deal with stress and anxiety, but I know it’s a really great one that works for many people and definitely works for me too when I give it a go. It’s a way to return to that inner stillness that’s always there. In the words of Herman Hesse: “Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”
If you don’t have time or a space to meditate, start by just taking a few conscious breaths. It’s the next best thing and also works wonders for your nervous system.
For those of you who have no commitment issues whatsoever, a great hug can help relieve a lot of pressure as well. For me, whether that works or not depends greatly on what the anxiety is about in the first place. Stress about work can be greatly reduced with a massage, but my commitment anxiety will go through the roof in that case.
How do you relieve pressure or stress when you feel like it gets too much? Do you also need time alone or does that actually increase the anxiety for you?
*Light language: A type of language that you write from the soul, not using any known letters or characters. You just take your pen and start writing from right to left (the opposite direction from which you normally write). You tell your hand to write and see what comes out. It’s fun, and interesting, and can be deeply healing.