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Loosening the Grip on Stress: Practices in Perspective

“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.”
– Najwa Zebian
Steering WheelWhen I moved from Seattle to Portland several years ago I drove myself and belongings south on I-5 the hundred-seventy-some miles in a U-Haul truck. While I had done this drive countless times before, it felt different than with my old Volvo. I liked the taller vantage point but otherwise found the responsibility of something so huge in so much traffic stressful. That stress played out in me death-gripping the steering wheel, perched at the edge of my seat, shoulders hunched and constricted.


I don’t know how many miles I drove like that until it occurred to me it wasn’t making me a better driver, but was making the drive unpleasant. I also remembered (i.e., began to trust) that I am in fact capable of driving between two lines, with ease actually if I loosened my grip a little.

I wouldn’t call the rest of the drive a breeze. Whenever a semi-truck came near me I re-squeezed the steering wheel with tremendous might. But, like when my mind wanders in meditation, moments of perspective continued to arise, and it was increasingly easier to re-relax.

Simply by living life we’re all going to, from time to time, feel the pressure of driving an oversized truck in high-speed traffic.  Being human, most of us will also likely get triggered, and re-triggered, by life’s encounters with other semis on the road. Here are a few simple ways to help maintain and regain perspective.


Practices in Perspective

Abiding in present moment awareness and reconnecting with our physical bodies are effective ways to push pause on our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight freeze system) and help with perspective.

  • Spend a few moments feeling physical sensations of breath. You may want to focus on where you feel breath most readily – perhaps at the tip of your nostrils, in your chest or in belly. Place a hand, or hands over the area if helpful. You can also label your breathing (in/out, rise/fall, etc.).
  • See if you can notice, and sense into, the space between breaths (at the top of inhales and bottom of exhales), even if just for a micro-moment.
  • Do a body scan from head to toe. Experiment with attuning to the sensations from the inside during inhales and softening with each exhale. A potential path could include forehead, eye sockets, jaw, shoulders, hands, hips, and feet. Alternatively, you could simply scan body parts where you tend to hold tension. You may also play around with creating a more or less comprehensive route depending on how much time you have.
  • Take a mindful walk. Feel sensations of feet lifting, weight and balance shifting, feet returning to ground. You might also notice sounds that arise from making contact with the ground beneath you, sensations of air on skin, and the movement of arms.
  • Pick a routine activity to do mindfully like brushing teeth, washing dishes, or drinking coffee. Pay attention to the full range of sensory experiences that unfold – sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste.
For more support in fostering ease, check out my full schedule of classes. To reduce tension in the workplace head to my coaching page. What helps you to loosen your grip on tension? To relax, or re-relax, in the moment? I’d love to hear from you here.
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