When you have an illness like ME/CFS, that affects your nervous system, it can be really difficult to switch off the stress response, even after the stress has passed. Sometimes the stress isn’t even what others would recognise as stress, it can simply be a case of the demands of life outweighing your resources, in other words just not having enough energy to do what you need to do. In order to release extra energy that isn’t presently available, the stress response gets triggered.
Last week I had to have my eyes tested. It was the first time I’d been into town in over 18 months and I knew it was going to stretch my resources. Rather unwisely, I decided to try a kill two birds with one stone as I really needed a bra fitting, and couldn’t see myself getting the energy together to go into town again for weeks, if not months. I had a quiet week and knew that I could have particularly restful day’s both before and after the visit. And I was impatient to try and find a comfortable bra that fits (another story altogether).
Unfortunately, unbeknown to us, there had been an incident in town that had one of the major town centre through roads closed, and we hit traffic almost straight away. I did my best not to get stressed about being late, but my dad who was driving me was getting a bit stressed and that didn’t help. I was also a little concerned about how far I’d have to walk, as recently I’ve been crashing after walking fairly short distances. Our plan had been that I’d be dropped off very close to the opticians, and picked up very close to the bra fitting. We found a plan B that didn’t involve much extra walking and I got there on time, but I’d already used more of my energy than expected at that point. I’d also forgotten just how tiring an eye test is. Although the bra fitting went fairly smoothly, by the time I got home I was exhausted, but in that tired but wired way that results from having the stress response triggered.
I went to bed for a couple of hours, tried to sleep, tried to meditate, but it wasn’t happening. I then remembered my strategies for dealing with after-stress. I have to admit that there was no quick fix for this. It took a combination of several strategies and a couple of hours before I was able to completely let go. But I got there. Here are the 4 strategies I used:
- Single pointed focused calming distraction
When the stress response is triggered trying to relax or meditate can be counterproductive at first. If your body isn’t ready to relax, the frustration involved in failing can just add to the stress. I’ve found that I first need to distract myself in a calming way that keeps my mind occupied enough not to go chasing around all over the place, but that allows my body to calm down. For me, sometimes that can be doing a Sudoku, colouring in or painting, a yoga nidra can be quite effective too, but this time I knew I also needed to be resting in a dark quiet room, so I went for easy reading on my kindle.
- Essential oils
I find essential oils really helpful in helping me to let go. My favourite at the moment is rollerball from dōTERRA, called Adaptiv, which contains Wild Orange, Lavender, Copaiba, Spearmint, Magnolia, Rosemary, Neroli, and Sweetgum. I just roll it over my neck and shoulders and rub it in, then I put a touch on my wrists and sternum. One of my favourite ‘letting go’ combinations is Ylang Ylang with lemongrass or bergamot, in the diffuser. I didn’t have the energy to set up the diffuser this time, the rollerball just seemed more accessible.
Once I got up I was still feeling a little angsty, and while I recognised that using more energy perhaps wasn’t the wisest thing, I also knew that not being able to get out of the stress response would use even more, so I decided to do my gentlest yoga routine. I reapplied the essential oils and got down on my mat. There’s something about gently stretching, mindfully, with the breath, then letting go that really helps switch of stress response. By the time I’d finished I was much more relaxed but I also felt as though I was still a little to close to the potential for being retriggered.
- Mindful stroll in the garden
My final strategy that hooked me firmly into relaxation, was a very gentle wander around the garden looking closely and all the plants and insects with curiosity and appreciation, routing my myself firmly in the present moment and finding a deep sense of peace.
What helps you wind-down and let go?