6 Tips for Moving the Stress on its Way


We are not sailors but bought a small sailboat a few years back. And, now we know, no one in their right mind tries to learn how to sail here on the Columbia River in the windsurfing capital of the world. Ok, admittedly, not the wisest move ever.

But aside from that …. as we were heading out one day, a fisherman coming in remarked how windy it was. We chuckled, thinking ‘yep, works for us, we have a sailboat’. So out we went … sails up and feeling pretty good about the whole thing. And then …. one of those unpredictable wind power blasts storms into us and we were seriously out of control.

Kevin jumped into action as the boat was tossing and turning wildly nearly on its side. As he yelled ‘untie the sails’ I yelled back ‘wait, let’s think this through’ not moving a muscle, trying not to fall out of the boat. He, of course, looked at me like I was a nut case and I was doing my best to run through how I would find him in the river after he went overboard.

Stressful, to say the least and we would’ve given the boat away right then if we had a taker.

He jumped into action, I froze and tried to reason the situation. In another situation our responses may have been different, but they were what they were. And we lived through it without capsizing or falling overboard. Barely. And yes, we still have the boat.

But let me ask you - who are you in the moment of stressful and fearful situations? Do you jump into action, run away or freeze in the moment? How do you react in those times of high stress? What is your favored response?

While fight, flight or freeze are all valuable responses that help to keep us alive and safe, if we cut the response short (before the adrenaline and other chemicals run their course) we can get stuck in the energy of it and it can cause problems. We have the ability to compose ourselves and that is appropriate at many times, but then we need to make sure we dissipate all of the chemicals and energy coursing through our systems. Get it out and be done with it.

Here are a few suggestions helping the process move on through:

  • Take several slow, full deep belly breaths while holding your heart center (more specifically the center of the sternum). Just focus on your breath. Slow, deep, steady breathing. This is great for panic attacks. Focus on the breath.

  • Make fists and rub your lower back with your knuckles. This brings warmth to the kidneys (where water is stored) and helps to melt the freeze response in the body.

  • Express – allow it to flow out through journaling, drawing, yoga. Or dancing, singing, yelling, stomping.

  • Get help from another – supportive friend or professional – just make sure it’s someone you trust whether to talk, walk or receive a session.

  • Say to yourself ‘A part of me is/is feeling _____”. It is not the whole of you, but a part that needs loving compassion. Then affirm “I am here for you. I see you. I love you”. Then simply be quiet. And notice what you notice. That part may just want to be held or it may have something to share. No need for any specific outcome; just be with it. Keep breathing.

  • Fear can communicate to you in many ways: shaky, foreboding, unease, edgy, nervous, apprehensive, agitated … You can take the words that you relate to the most and write “I feel ___ when I ___” feel into it, then continue “because I imagine that _____”.  Is that true? How likely is that to happen? This helps you move out of the story that you’ve imagined and look at it more objectively. And you may realize a course of action that would be helpful, like a sailing class.

Granted none of these would help in the midst of flailing about in a sailboat, for instance, but afterwards when the death threat passes and you can catch your breath, you may find these quite helpful.

We need stress in our lives – the productive kind in order to accomplish things and keep us safe. But when it is in control and runs our life, it turns unhealthy quickly.  

Learn how to work with your stress response, not against it, and it may serve you well.

Happy Adventuring,