Why Bother Knowing When You Are Distressed?

Why Bother Knowing When You Are Distressed?

The other day, my husband noticed that someone was flying an American flag upside down. I am not sure these people understand the message that an upside down flag relays, but according to the American Legion, “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.” 

What Are Your Signs of Distress?

Sometimes we do experience dire distress from ordinary living. But more importantly, we need to recognize the signals our bodies send when under stress. 

 Before recognizing my own stress and some of its symptoms, I’d always associated stress to something only high powered executives suffered from. I was wrong. Stress occurs in everyone at sometime. The old, the young, men, women, rich or poor, no one is immune. 

Shortly after I became the mother of a newborn, I lost so much weight that it alerted a friend of mine. She noticed my gauntness one day and said, “You are way too thin,” and handed me a giant homemade chocolate chip cookie. I savored its tasty morsels while ruminating on her words. 

I was a tightly wound and nervous new mother. I’d stayed alert to the needs of my newborn while neglecting my own. The damage I’d done to my own body had gone undetected by me until my friend’s words woke me up. If I were to be the good mom I was trying so hard to be, then I’d need to learn how to take care of the one and only body that would carry me through the rest of my life. That was a lesson I learned a long time ago, and one I’ve never forgotten. 

Stress or tension is nothing we can avoid, but we can pay attention to our body and the messages it relays when we feel overwhelmed. When the demands for me at work are high, my body accelerates. I want to move fast in order to get everything done. But I’ve learned that when I feel the tyranny of the urgent ramping up inside of me, I actually have to do the opposite; slow down. Running on the adrenaline my body produces under pressure only defeats my productivity.  As contrary as it feels for me to move unhurried, that is precisely what I need to do. Then, eventually, my mind complies with what my body is saying and synchronization between mind and body occurs. The result is productivity, the very thing I’m after.

Knowing my natural tendencies is the best way to know when I am in dire straits as well as how to prevent self inflicted tension. My inclination is to do things for myself and by myself.  Asking for help is hard, but I’m learning that it is okay to ask. 

I gravitate toward overcommitting and set high expectations for myself. But then I pause, and think twice. Are these expectations realistic? Are they necessary? Scratching one or two of these expectations from my list leaves space for a moment or two of leisure; contrary, yet vital for anybody like me. 

Why bother knowing when you are distressed? It is worth noting whether you’re flying your flag right-side up or upside down. If it is upside down, then listen. Your body is trying to tell you something.

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