Recognizing & Reducing Stress “Creep”
“For many men that stumble at the threshod are well foretold that the danger lurks within.”
— William Shakespeare
In engineering, creep is the tendency of a solid material to slowly move or deform permanently under the influence of stresses. It occurs as a result of long term exposure to levels of stress that are below the yield strength of the material.1 The yield strength of a material is defined as the stress at which a material begins to deform non-reversibly. It generally represents an upper limit to the load that can be applied. Prior to the yield point the material will deform elastically and will return to its original shape when the applied stress is removed.2
As human beings, we experience a similar phenomenon. Often stress in our lives is not acute; rather, it is a slow accumulation of stress without release. When we don’t recognizing this accumulation of stress, eventually it may build up to a breaking point where the consequences of the stress are more severe for us. It is possible, however, to dissipate the stress that has accumulated, if you recognize its presence, and, in this way, minimize the emotional and physical wear and tear that you ultimately experience. Awareness is the key to this process. Recognizing that stress has been accumulating requires that you periodically check in with your body and mind to notice your state. If you can identify tension in your body, or an uneasy mind, then you have the opportunity to address it before it reaches a threshold.
Bryan’s story reflects this process. He first started becoming aware of residual tension in his body when he would lie down to being his yoga practice or sit down to start mediating. Even though he believed he was relaxing in a comfortable position, Bryan noticed that his shoulders, in particular, were tense. When he paid close attention, he could feel that his shoulders were creeping up approximately two inches toward his ears. Once he noticed this tension, he could let it go.
After this experience, Bryan started to consciously check in with his body periodically throughout the day. When he checked in, he, again, discovered tension in his shoulders that he was not aware of. Bringing his attention to his shoulders, Bryan found that he could drop them down about two inches as he released the tension in that region of his body.
Moreover, Bryan discovered that his body was reflecting the state of his mind. He noticed that when his shoulders were holding tension, his thoughts were also agitated. Accordingly, Bryan found he could use his body as a measure of his actual stress level, like a thermometer. When he found tension in his body, he recognized that he was stressed. And by releasing the physical tension in his body, he realized that he could positively impact his mental and emotional state.
You, too, can reduce the accumulation of stress in your body and mind. Here are a few ways you can release some stress when you take the time to check in with yourself:
- Take several deep breaths (see The Power of the Breath in my blog postings)
- Do some mindful shoulder rolls and/or neck rolls to release the stress in your shoulders and neck.
- Remove yourself from the stressor, or environment, and go for a walk.
- Engage in some postures to stretch out your body or do a balance posture.
The key is to find triggers or methods of checking in with your experience even when you don’t know that you are stressed, rather than waiting until you hit a point of breakdown!
“Men who know themselves are no longer fools. They stand on the threshold of the door of Wisdom.”
— Henry Ellis