When You’re Wound Up like a Rope

How do you experience stress? Do you get hyper? Depressed? Blocked by too much to do? Do you nibble constantly, or maybe you don’t feel like eating at all?

Become aware of how your body is feeling—and loosen up those shoulders, wrists, and ankles.

When I am overly busy and stressed, I feel tension in my neck and shoulders—sometimes with a headache.

Back in January, stress was loading up because of a mix of both happy and stressful events. At home, my husband and I faced a looming deadline for a decision; some important factors related to our decision concerned events totally out of our control. In other words, I felt helpless and as if we were on a train hurdling down a railroad track with no brakes.

Normally I can sleep pretty well, and I did throughout this period, but I found my irritability creeping out in other ways: snapping, pacing, even yelling inappropriately. Some of my joy in living was sapped.

Once we were able to make a decision, even though it wasn’t a perfect outcome, we have been able to calm down and move on.

Perhaps one blessing of growing older is an increasing ability to recognize the symptoms of stress piling up, like tight shoulders and a pulsing head—or whatever happens with you.

Reading about panic attacks and how some deal with serious anxiety and phobias makes me extremely grateful that my anxiety and stress is more of the situational type I described above.

My favorite way to deal with stress and anxious thoughts is to practice various calming techniques, like slowing my breathing. That includes taking a deep breath through the nose for about four seconds, holding the breath for two seconds, then releasing the breath very slowly over six seconds (and letting the breath release through the nose). I think using the nose is suggested (unless you have nose issues) because the breath goes in and out more slowly through the nose than through the mouth’s larger opening.

We can bring about a more restful state when feeling tense and anxious by sitting up tall in a chair (or in a mediating pose on the floor if you’re so inclined). Practice slowing down your breathing using the counting method in the previous paragraph.

Become aware of how your body is feeling—and loosen up those shoulders, wrists, and ankles. Let your bones and discs in the spine breathe by sitting up as tall as possible, and take a huge breath.

According to the website of the Centre for Clinical Interventions, how we breathe is a “powerful determinant of physical state.” When highly stressed, you may breathe more shallowly and disrupt the flow of oxygen. You’ve probably been around someone who was hyperventilating, and sometimes such persons have to breathe into a bag to help keep oxygen in balance.

When worries and thoughts keep me awake at night (or if I can’t go back to sleep after taking a trip to the bathroom), I put up a mental stop card in my brain and just try to make my mind go blank. If thoughts start flying again, I again calmly tell myself stop. Usually this works; I’m sure it wouldn’t function as well if afflicted by clinical depression or grief or financial burdens. But you might try it.

The gym where I try to go as often as possible to (when I can’t walk outside) offered some one-page fliers recently filled with great advice for dealing with stress, serious anxiety, and worry. Some of the tips I’ve shared here come from these fliers, and are available online at www.cci.health.wa.gov.au. The Centre for Clinical Interventions has an incredible number of basic resources written by professionals in the field under the “Consumers” subheading in their Resources section.

The bad news is that we all experience stress. The good news is that for most of us, managing stress can become a habit, and practicing good stress-relieving techniques a familiar routine.


For a free bookmark, “101 Ways to Manage Stress,” write to me at MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg VA 22802. I’ll send it by regular mail, so please be sure to include your mailing address.