A band-aid is a makeshift or temporary solution to a more complicated problem.
Stress is completely exhausting and most of us apply makeshift band-aids, which are temporary at best, and at worst, camoflauge the damage stress is doing to our bodies and our lives.
I didn’t realize it, but looking back at my exhausted achiever life, I have used the most commonly recognized self-care practices as a band-aid for the chronic stress and trauma I was carrying in my body.
Here’s what my life looked like at about 55 years old. (I am turning 70 on July 6th and what a different person I am!)
About 5 years after I started practicing yoga, my shoulder froze. I woke up one morning and when I tried to move my arm, nerve pain shot down my arm all the way into my fingers. The pain startled me so much that tears flooded my eyes.
And then, I got really angry. I had thoroughly invested myself in yoga. I had great, caring teachers and I was such a good student. I went to classes at least twice a week; I followed my teachers’ advice; and, it really made me feel good — at least until the next morning. But all this yoga, did not prevent my frozen shoulder.
In addition to yoga, I went weekly for massages — even on a single mom’s budget — I struggled to keep this regular self-care practice going. I knew that I had to take care of myself and I thought I was doing what was right.
My doctor recommended physical therapy, which I did, and, again, it helped some, but only for a short while. My shoulder always seemed on the brink of disaster.
I took ibuprofen to lessen the pain. At that time, I didn’t know that it was tearing up my stomach and poking holes in my intestines.
I drank coffee in the morning to get me going and I drank wine in the evening to slow me down.
I started each day on a healthy diet plan, but after I put the kids to bed, I ended up binging on ice-cream or popcorn to feel some comfort in my life. I figured I deserved at least that.
This picture — of holding onto chronic stress — is very much what I see in the women I work with today. And, even though I was trying to take care of myself, I didn’t realize that the things I was doing were not self care but rather, self-care band-aids. They were not helping with the long-term, chronic stress. No, not at all.
These self-care band-aids, which are characteristically self-soothing and short-term, do not help to unwind the chronic stress we hold in our bodies.
What I learned, slowly, over time, as I worked with more and more women who were coming to me with their over-50 exhausted achiever selves, was that the apparent problem caused by a frozen shoulder is really a much more pervasive and deep problem of holding onto stress throughout our whole bodies.
I have been teaching women how to be aware of the subtle signals sent to us by our breath, our bodies, and our minds that signal stress and I have developed, through my Body Vitality Method, a series of short, but powerful practices to learn how to let that stress go.
The funny thing is that real stress relief, or if you want to call it deep self care, is something you learn for yourself — a breathing technique, a self-massage technique that eases tension, a movement sequence. These strategies are simple, really inexpensive, and can be done daily for 10-15 minutes a day with remarkable results.
Deep self-care, or stress relief practices, cannot be outsourced to even the best yoga teacher or massage therapist because we must learn to listen to our whole bodies where the stress and trauma lives.
Often, if breathing is not a problem for my students, one of the first things I teach is a simple calming breath. Connecting to your breath is a very effective way to learn to listen to our bodies — something that we exhausted achievers have a very hard time doing because we are always on the go, charging through the next thing on our lists.
Dr. Andrew Weil argues that sustaining a breath practice of 20 breaths in the morning and the evening can shift your nervous system out of fight and flight, or as I have been calling it, chronic stress, and create the conditions for healing all of those deeply disturbing symptoms of stress: fatigue, headaches, pain, worry, tension, cardiovascular issues, food cravings, premature aging, lowered immune system and more.
Stress band-aids simply don’t work — even though they seem to — and most of us don’t know how to do anything else.
And this is exactly why I founded a school for body-centered stress relief, which I call the #FierceOver50 Gathering. After teaching classes, workshops, and group programs, I found that women need an easy, but long, runway to learn how deep stress relief works in their individual bodies. Individual sessions and workshops just didn’t do the job. We didn’t accumulate this stress and trauma overnight and a simple workshop or even an ongoing class won’t do what most women need.
The deep wins for women in the Gathering come from being aware of stress and learning how to let it go through whole body practices. For instance:
*Nancy noticed that she felt anxiety as she went into work– even on the good days. She learned a breathing strategy to apply when she felt that. This is not a band-aid; it’s an ongoing practice of observing and responding to stress in Nancy’s body.
*Alison noticed, when she learned to listen to her body, that she was clenching and grinding her teeth. She was surprised to notice that her lower back was tightening up at the same time. She began to investigate when this tightening occurred and used a whole body breathing, self-massage, and movement strategy to relax fully. Again, this is not a band-aid; it’s ongoing work that Alison does throughout her day, yes, even — and especially– while she is working.
My monthly membership, the #FierceOver50 Gathering, is only $47 a month. You pay monthly and can drop out at any time. But I don’t think you’ll want to because you’ll see that this monthly process — which costs less than a one-hour massage — gives you a supportive and sustainable way to grow your stress relief practices over time as you build the life you want to live.
You can sign up for the #FierceOver50 Gathering here. Once you sign up, we will schedule a half-hour one-on-one meeting to help you get started. I’d love to have you in this wonderful community of women who are redesigning the second half of their lives.
Love and Gratitude,
P.S. If you have questions about whether the #FierceOver50 Gathering is right for you and would like to experience an individual, 15-minute, zoom workshop experience, just as we do in the Gathering, click reply to this email and I will send you a link to sign up for one of the few sessions I am offering. Please type, “Interested in the #FierceOver50 Gathering,” in the subject line.
Content provided by Women Belong member AnnMerle Feldman