Connecticut Voice

Your LGBTQ+ Voice

Finding Peace

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Is it just me, or does the world seem like one big dumpster fire right now? That looming existential stress of “what if”, on top of daily work stress, family stress, and the continued attacks on our community. If you’re finding it hard to find peace or unplug from it all; congrats you’re human! Part of our survival mechanism is to have a hardy threat response system that can mobilize immense physiological resources to get us out of life-threatening situations. Except, our bodies can’t tell the difference between a lion looming dangerously close and a horrible story in the news. So, what happens when it all feels like too much, and we’re living in a state of constant stress?

The thing is, we need stress. Good stress helps us to learn, develop skills, become stronger both physically and mentally, and our biological stress response is how we’ve survived as a species. So, to experience stress is, well, human! However, if that “flight or fight” sympathetic nervous system response doesn’t turn off and switch to our rest and recovery system, then the continued perceived threat triggers a cascade of reactions in our brains and bodies, that include: sustained elevated blood pressure and heart rate, cardiac arrhythmias, sleep disorders, digestive issues, and increased psychological distresses like depression and anxiety. These, in turn, lead to a feeling of constant overwhelm. It’s important to note that this is a totally normal human response to what’s happening around us, and many of us are feeling it. The question is: how can we take time to nurture ourselves to keep showing up in our lives in a loving way.

Right now you might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah but how do I just ignore what’s happening in the world?” We don’t, and we don’t want to. To be able to build stress tolerance—the capacity to deal with stressful situations in healthy ways and not burn out or shut down—we have to actually bring more awareness to what’s happening in our bodies as a result of our fear, real or imagined. It’s when we try to ignore or suppress the amount of stress and difficulty we are experiencing that we become powerless to our response to it.

As we start to become more aware, we’ll still have our old patterns, but we’ll be able to watch them with conscious, compassionate awareness. Then, we can start to practice adaptive coping mechanisms or behaviors that help us grow, heal, and move forward instead of numbing out and staying stuck. Practicing waking up to our own experiences gives us the power of the pause. Then we can act consciously.

Here’s how we practice: Take 5 minutes during a time when you feel safe and not triggered. Sit or lie down, eyes open or closed, and notice your breathing. Notice how the belly and chest expand and return, how your breath feels in your nostrils and the space around your nostrils, and allow your thoughts to come up, whatever they are. You’ll quickly notice that your mind is a stream of thoughts, some of them tied to strong emotions.  All good, we’re not trying to stop the flow of thoughts; it’s the nature of our minds to think. It doesn’t mean you need to follow the thoughts. You can notice them and then practice returning your attention to your breath, letting the thoughts go on your next out breath. Exhaling has been shown to increase vagal tone, meaning a long slow exhale gets us into our parasympathetic, rest and digest, nervous system. That’s what we want. You’ll keep following thoughts and stories, and the practice is to notice that happening and keep returning to your breath. That’s it. If at any point it becomes difficult or upsetting, just stop that session.

The more that we can practice being mindful in the present moment, the more we’ll see how much power we give away to thoughts and emotions and how those patterns of behavior keep us feeling powerless. However, if we practice compassionate awareness, and utilize the pause, we can experience stressors and still be able to access the resources within to help us get free from limiting patterns that are keeping us stuck.

You may be thinking this is all very “woo woo,” when it’s actually science! The power of cultivating mindfulness is well-researched and has been shown to increase cognitive functioning, reduce risks of disease, and lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression because it turns off our threat responses. And all you need is your breath and your attention. To learn a few tips on ways to practice de-stressing head to

–Meghan Crutchley