Where tantra meets neuroscience…
It’s a good time right now to talk about managing stress, as there is plenty of it going around…financially, emotionally and relationally…
In the current world climate, it can be easy to find yourself shouting at your partner and hating the very sight of them. You might be believing they’re somehow failing you, or you are somehow failing them. You might be feeling unsafe, rather than wanting to be close, loving and intimate. You might be feeling stuck, rather than free, easy, holding space for your partner and yourself to be just as you are…
To manage stress, even to become a master of stress resiliency, you first need to understand it. This is where neuroscience can help.
Neuroscience reminds us there are two facets of stress- both the stress and the stressor.
And there are two kinds of solutions- the external and the internal.
Let’s start with understanding the difference between the stress and the stressor.
The stressors are the things that activate a stress response in your body, by indicating they can do you harm.
A stressor can be anything you see, hear, smell taste, touch, feel or imagine.
A stressor can be external to you:
- a difficult conversation with your partner or your boss
- a bill arriving in your Inbox
- the latest home loan interest rate rise
- an expectation of your culture for you to behave a certain way as husband, or wife
- a smell that reminds you of an unpleasant encounter
- an unwelcome touch
- a reasonable request for attention from your partner that you do not have the energy to meet.
There are also internal stressors:
- self criticism
- lack of self worth
- lack of sleep
- unresolved feelings from your last argument
- uncertainties about the future.
The stress is the neurological and physiological shift that happens when you meet one of these stressors.
It’s the rush of neurological and hormonal activity generated by your body, in its evolutionary adaptive response that helps us survive threats. Where we become instantly more switched on, focussed in the moment, ready to deal with whatever looms before us.
Whether it’s to run, fight or freeze.
We also experience a range of feelings such as annoyance, frustration, anger, anxiety, uncertainty, fear, numbness, sluggishness, disconnected.
Our entire body and mind changes in order to deal with this threat, perceived or real.
As we know, most of our threats are more psychological than physical these days. Unless you are unlucky enough to be a victim of a crime or domestic violence.
Once our stress response sees that it has been successful in dealing with the threat it relaxes, and there is relief or celebration. We then return to our normal resting and sociable state. All is right with the world and we once again feel safe.
Our stress response is built to be a short term response.
It’s meant to be immediately resolved.
Our stress response is not meant to be long term.
In modern life we have fewer life threatening stressors, but many more frequent ones.
Frequent small stressors make relationships complicated.
Because we might want to run away from our partner at times, in order to resolve our stress.
Or to throw our wine in their face or strike out at them in the perceived (and occasionally real) threat they represent to us.
Yet we can’t.
We’re supposed to be nice, connected and loving.
And to stay in relationship with this person.
So we need more effective ways of dealing with the situation rather than just relying on our stress response.
Particularly as unresolved stress becomes chronic.
Our stress response keeps activating and we become stuck in the stress cycle.
We can unconsciously start to see our partner as a source of threat, rather than one of love, support and desire.
Leaving us feeling unsafe.
Making us want to protect ourselves, rather than reach out.
Chronic stress has many physical impacts
Chronic stress can leave us with high blood pressure and heart disease. It can have us reaching for the antacid tablets as the blood rushes to our muscles rather than our gut. This is so we can flee or fight, rather than our stomach digest, a secondary concern in times of stress. Blood doesn’t flow to our genitals as much either, for that matter. Chronic stress also leaves our immune functioning lowered and our sleep poor. Overall leaving us less equipped to deal with, or enjoy life.
Chronic stress can also leave us effectively “playing dead”. When the gazelle can no longer out run the lion, it plays dead. This is in the hope the lion will lose interest and leave it alone. In chronic stress playing dead can leave us feeling stuck and unmotivated, with no answers, nor ability to find any.
The impact of unresolved stress is pretty damning.
So how do we deal with BOTH the stress and the stressor?
We approach it from two different angles.
We find external solutions that deal with the stressor.
ie. we find the modern day equivalent of running from the lion.
We refinance our home loan, adjust our budget spending, change jobs, take time out until we can re-engage with our loved one, or we ask for help.
We make the time to share with our partners what is going on for us. We make the effort to listen non judgmentally when our partners share. We come back to a place of connection.
Even more importantly, we find internal solutions to clear the stress.
The physiological impact of stress that we still carry in all parts of our bodies. Even our hearts, minds and genitals.
The good news is that clearing our stress internally allows us to come up with easier external solutions. This is because we come back into safety and connection with more of our executive brain function.
Let’s get physical
We can do this firstly by getting physical. It’s the most efficient way to deal with stress.
Doing between 30-60 mins of exercise a day, in whatever form works for you. Whether it includes taking the stairs, going for a walk or run, having a game, doing a workout.
It’s even more efficient when we’re doing it with intent. Going for a run, or a bike ride, or dancing around the living room, actively knowing we’re releasing our stress.
There are other ways too.
Ways that are more tantric. Such as:
- deep breathing
- having a good cry (watch your fave weepy movie)
- throwing a temper tantrum to safely release anger (in a private space)(very tantric!)
- expressing your feelings creatively through journaling or art
- getting a good nights rest
- having positive social interactions. This is where connecting with your girlfriends, or your mates, can be a more effective stress reliever than your partner. (Provided you don’t just whinge about your partners.
- having a good laugh (hang out with friends or watch your fave funny movie)
You can also choose to promote stress relief WITHIN your relationship
This kind of intimacy also works beyond the level of the mind to show you that you are once again safe.
Creating safety and connection at the same time.
You can do this through affection, by hugging each other until you’re BOTH relaxed for example.
Or lying together and deep breathing.
Or as relationship researcher John Gottman suggests, doing the six second kiss.
You need to connect to the part of you that still loves this person (trusting that you do in there somewhere) to be able to complete these suggestions.
You can even occasionally have sex to help relieve tension.
Be aware that having this kind of sex consistently drains energy from your pleasure, and from your relationship. It is much better for your sex life, and your relationship, to come to sex already relaxed and connected.
Each of these solutions are backed by scientific research.
They’re also supported by tantric philosophy that sees stress as withheld energy that needs clearing, making way for pleasure and connection to arise.
You’ll know you’ve cleared your stress because you’ll feel clear, alive, safe, ready and able to connect with the world again.
Bringing us home to ourselves, to life, and to each other again.
If you would like support to become stress resilient in your relationships contact us here and we’ll support you in finding your unique way forward.