This month, we are taking a three-step journey to knowing how to be well now. We’ve explored how to be and what it means to be well. Today, let’s learn why ‘now’ is the most important moment for your health, and how you can be well even when stressed.
- Stress can be an invitation to return to being well now.
- Awareness of the feelings of stress and the feelings of well creates a simple way to accept that invitation.
- Now is the moment you can have the greatest impact on your health, by shifting out of stress into well.
One fall, many years ago, I was so busy and stressed with school and work that one day, I looked up to see that all the leaves had already turned bright autumn colors. I thought, “when did that happen?”
Every living thing is in a constant state of change. Most of these changes we don’t see until they are so noticeable, we can no longer ignore them. But change is constantly happening around us, and inside us, moment by moment.
Stress is when you are resisting or judging that change, trying to get somewhere else, to avoid it or fix it. Well is when you are allowing what is happening now to be your guide to adapting to that change.
Stress happens from the inside out. Stressors are the changes that are happening. Stress is how your whole person responds to the changes.
Wellbeing also happens from the inside out. Staying aware of the changes happening inside is the way to be well, and thus be healthy. There are four parts to this inside space that determines if we are stressed or well:
When one or more of these parts of you senses a threat to your well-being your whole person shifts into a state of stress. Your thoughts, emotions and physical state change instantly as a result of this real or perceived threat. They change in an effort to take care of the threat. Thats an important point. The purpose of the stress response is to get you back to the state of well.
When you ignore or disregard those inner changes, you get stuck in stress. Cortisol levels and inflammation stay high and every system in your body requires more energy, so less energy is put into healing, growth, and repair.
When you realize they are happening, you can use them as a reminder to take action get back to a state of well. Your whole person wants to put energy into healing, repair, and growth. The sooner you accept that invitation, the sooner you get back to being healthy.
The first step in your Be Well Now journey is to shift from doing into being. Even if you can’t physically stop, mentally bring your attention to here and now.
The second step is to put your attention in your center, where only you know what you need to be well. Trust what you sense there, because it is the information you will use to guide you in step three.
The third step is to use how you feel now to move from stressed to well.
This third step needs to be super simple, though, because our brains hyper-focus on the stressor. We call emotions feelings because we feel them in our body. They are the wake up call to what is happening here and now. Scientists have found that simply naming your feelings begins to tame them. The feelings wheel is a tool for doing this. Here’s a very simplified version based on the original version by Gloria Wilcox
In this moment, are you feeling sad, mad, or scared? Are you feeling joyful, peaceful, or powerful?
The only way to know this is to pay attention to how you feel in your body. The only time you know this is in this moment.
As I mentioned in the last blog, well does not mean you are happy or all is perfect. Well is when you allow the fullness of what is happening now to guide you in any given moment. Your emotions are a helpful entry point to coming back to this moment.
However, letting yourself feel and naming your feelings may not be a skill you have practiced. If you have been taught to ‘tough it out’ and push through pain, you are probably practiced at ignoring feelings in order to push through to a goal. This works for some goals, like school or sports. But for being healthy, the sooner you notice what you are feeling the sooner you can take the invitation to move from stressed to well. So if this does not come naturally, that’s okay, what you practice gets stronger.
When you notice the feeling of stress rising, move your body—stay curious about what your body needs.
When you feel mad, scared or sad your body is prepared to move to fight, flee, or freeze to take care of the threat. Use that tension to move from stressed to well:
- mad, move for freedom, releasing tension, and restoring peace. I.e: stretch your whole body or dance to an empowering song.
- scared, move for strength, reconnecting with your inner power. I.e: engage your muscles, give yourself a hug, or do strength exercises and feel the strength you have now.
- sad, move for energy, releasing your heart’s joy. Ie: walk or bike in nature or have a private dance party to your favorite song.
When you feel “positive” emotions, you may have the instinct to resist them too. In every good storyline, when things are going well, it is a sign something ‘bad’ will follow. We can tend to think this is how real life works. Feeling joyful, peaceful, or powerful can trigger a fight, flight, freeze response too. Practice allowing these emotions by embodying them:
- joyful, move to celebrate life right now. Ie: dance to a favorite song.
- peaceful, move to savor it and let it grow. Ie: give yourself a hug or simply sway to your breath
- powerful, move so it settles in to your whole being. Ie: stand with your arms up like you just climbed a huge mountain.
The point is not to fear your emotions, or judge whether they are positive or negative. Feel them because they are invitations to be well now.
Now, every fall, I make sure I notice the leaves every day so I don’t miss one moment of the beauty of change as it unfolds. Embracing change as part of life means you can use those moments you start to spiral down as an invitation to spiral up. Meeting yourself right where you are now, and moving with presence and kindness, is the simplest way to change that direction so you can Be Well Now every step of the way to better health.
- Gloria Willcox (1982) The Feeling Wheel, Transactional Analysis Journal, 12:4, 274-276, DOI: 10.1177/036215378201200411
- Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli. Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, and Baldwin M. Way. Psychological Science 2007;18(5):421-428.