(948 words) Environmental Triggers and Our Subtle Emotional Reactions
I was air-traveling after a long time. I usually take books to read, notebooks to write, or audiobooks to listen to. And I usually end up watching people, movies that I don’t even like, or doing nothing. Of course, in the end, I’d judge myself for being unproductive and wasting many hours in the airport and during the flight. Killing time is no fun!
It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of my anxiety causing the restless feelings. I didn’t even acknowledge it and simply brushed it away.
Obviously, I wasn’t distressed or panicked but the low amount of anxiety usually gone unnoticed made me feel not enjoying my flight and feeling restless during my time in the airport or airplane and exhausted after my arrival.
This time, I decided to be more mindful as soon as I got to the airport. I was lucky, the airport and security line were not crowded on a Thursday mid-morning. However, I noticed my shoulders began stiffening and even hurting. In my head, I was clear and had no signs of anxiety. But my body was alarming me. Stress usually impacts my muscles, especially my right shoulder and stiffens my jaw. I began searching more in my body. I noticed the shallow breathing. Yup, my nervous system was aroused. I was in fight/flight mode, very alert.
So, I accepted it. Cognitively I began searching for reasons for the anxiety. I noticed that the airport has been a place that separated me from my child for 6 years. Also, the word security brings an alert to me. Even though I have personally worked on the projects related to the security machines in the airports, to me, their protection means there are possibilities of danger. And last but not least, being born in Iran and having it noted in my passport, I have gotten the big red ❌ on my boarding pass many times, singled out, being body and bag searched. Evidently, my body remembers all of that and probably more which alarms me of the possibility of repeating any of those events. Based on my personal experiences, that’s my body perception.
I tried to remember good memories of traveling around the world through different airports and securely back to my sweet home too. It was nice to remember good memories, but it didn’t balance the unsettling memories in my body.
So, I decided to let my anxiety be there. Since I had enough time, I allowed myself a leisure walk towards my gate. And told my anxiety, “It’s okay. We are together in this and at the moment we are safe.”
When I sat in the airplane, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to be anxious. I noticed, I wasn’t worried or scared. I was just unsettled due to my personal perception of the airport and air-traveling, and of course being out of my routine. My body needed to be more alert to protect me. Sounds simple but our bodies have to work hard to manage all of that.
I’m glad I tried to understand my situation allowing myself to feel the anxiety. To my surprise, I read my book more than any other time with good focus and I wasn’t trying to use reading as a distraction. I wrote the draft of this blog post, massaged my neck and shoulders, closed my eyes every now and then, stayed friends with my anxiety, looked outside, and had a good time on the air. The unsettling feeling wasn’t as powerful and distracting anymore.
On Airbnb, I relaxed without rushing to sightseeing. My body was grateful, shallow breathing was gone, and my shoulders relaxed, the pain was gone by the end of the day. It became more manageable than before. I was certainly more present enjoying my time.
The neuromuscular neurons in our body like the neuroreceptors in our brain have stored all the memories. They send messages to our brain to take survival actions for our safety based on those understandings of the past. All the stress from each event, weak or powerful, remains in our muscle memory.
There are now many practices to release the stress from our body that could be different for each person. We can learn what actions work for us. Someone can run or do yoga to release the stress. I need to lay down and relax sometimes along with doing yoga and stretches, dancing, and shaking my body.
The more we become in tune with our bodies, the better we can ground ourselves and get through what life brings to us with more resilience. Research shows that overall, we are more resilient if we feel our emotions, name them, listen to their messages of safety and survival, and avoid brushing them away or distracting ourselves from it.
Little improvements count and sum up to create a calmer experience. I was able to begin re-teaching my body to remember that it was okay to feel unsettled, to remind myself that I was safe and could enjoy the moment and be present.
If there was chaos and I was distressed, I’d choose a more powerful tool to authentically feel my emotions (such as deep breathing, closing my eyes for a few seconds, or body centering) to quickly remind myself to be resilient and then later after the storm would do longer grounding practices.
What I was experiencing was allowing myself to feel my emotions and accepting them. I practiced bringing more clarity that perhaps freed my cognitive abilities to perform with more presence.
How do you listen to your body? Do you accept your emotions allowing them to hang out? What tools do you use to ground yourself?
Let’s create a safe space for our emptions!
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