Are You Aware of What Winds You Up? (And Can You Get Back Down?)

Written by: Jorinde Berben
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Today, I just returned from a week-long trip with my (extended) family. ‘We’ included 8 adults and 9 children between the ages of 3 and 9. We stayed in a really great house that had a foosball table, a sauna and a zip line outside for fun, but it also had really bad acoustics and the weather was more like a chilly October than a warm summer for most of the week, forcing the kids to play inside. You get the idea: it was really (really!) loud for much of the time (the cherry on top being 4 hours in an indoor aquatic park).

Loud and scattered noises (people chattering, traffic, background music) is something that really drains my energy. After a few hours, it feels like my head is so full of noise that it might just explode. I can’t concentrate on anything anymore. Invariably, I will turn into a less agreeable person than my usual self. I get tetchy, find it more difficult to perform simple tasks or and lose track of my planning. At the end of the day, all this built-up tension has settled in my muscles (my jaw, shoulders, back) and I find it really hard to unwind.

Noise is one of the things that winds me up, but there are other things, too. This list is different for everyone. Perhaps some of the things on here cause you stress throughout the day as well:

  • flickering lights or images that move really quickly
  • too much physical contact
  • not enough physical contact
  • your planning that goes awry
  • conflict with other people
  • small talk
  • managing your emotions
  • managing other people’s emotions
  • a long to-do list
  • not being productive
  • crowded places
  • being alone
  • deadlines
  • lack of structure

What winds you up, what increases your stress-level throughout the day, can be very different from person to person. For me, it might be loud noise, whereas, for someone else, it could be having to work alone all day. Either way, it’s important to get really clear on what exactly winds you up so you can prepare for the necessary unwinding.

When you’ve figured out what stresses you out, it’s vital to learn what you can do to de-stress. How can you unwind effectively? What calms your nervous system?

When I feel completely stressed out and wound up, there are a few things that can calm my nerves and help me unwind. They might work for you as well, or you might have a completely differently set of unwinding tools. The key is what happens when you do unwind: your heart rate slows down, you stop producing cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones), your muscles relax. For many of us, this can be when we start to feel tired or achy, it’s as if our feelings have actually gotten worse instead of better, but what’s really happening is that we’ve finally made room for our feelings to be felt. Whatever they might be. And once they have been felt, they are free to move on.

Many of my most effective ways of unwinding are discussed in this article I wrote a while ago on real self-care, but to summarize here, they are, inter alia: writing, taking a bath, a back-rub, going for a walk alone in the forest, meditating, having a deep conversation, going to the spa, and… crying (read on the health benefits of crying in this Psychology Today article). I can distract myself from my stress levels when I’m watching a movie or tv series, or when reading a book, but that doesn’t allow the space I need to feel the feelings I need to feel. If I try to unwind by occupying my mind too much, I can’t relax into my body. In order for the tension to dissipate, it needs air.

As helpful as it is to unwind, my preferred strategy is still limit my stressors as much as possible. I avoid large gatherings and weekends that are planned full with social activities. But sometimes there is no way of avoiding these moments. I have to attend the work meetings with 120+ colleagues, even if they are really chaotic at times.
And sometimes I take the stress in stride, because I don’t want to give up the thing that helps me avoid it, such as spending time with my family. In those cases, I try to schedule in time to unwind either during the event, or at least right after.

As great as the vacation went (we had quite some picture perfect moments!), it was also a relief to return to my own home with my son (my daughter is spending one more night), and to the quiet and familiar setting. Many of the unprocessed emotions of the week also have time to surface now, for me and for my son, who always needs extra time to process and interpret events with an emotional factor.
I’m going to do some unwinding right now, and I’m so grateful to know exactly how I can go about it!

What winds you up like nothing else? And what helps you unwind when you are stressed out? I’m really eager to find out what works for you!

‘Til next time!

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