Have you ever watched two dogs fighting with one another who separate, shake it off, and then go about their day as if nothing happened? Or how about one of those National Geographic videos of a herd of wildebeests escaping an attack, slowing down, and resuming their search for grass to eat?
Doesn't it seem like they get over that cheetah attack a little too quickly? That's because animals - humans included - have instinctual methods of discharging stress and trauma almost immediately after it happens. They literally shake it off.
Before the human species developed its robust thinking mind, we would experience stress or trauma, shake it off, and move on. Now that we have these hyperactive minds at our disposal, when we experience stress, we create a story about it. When our coworker disagrees with us in a meeting, our bodies are sent into a stress response, which instead of just dealing with and shaking off, we turn into a story about our worthiness, our coworker's intentions, et cetera.
The energy that's created by a stressful response has to go somewhere. It will either stay in your body and make you sick, get displaced and hit those around you, or, ideally, be intentionally released in a healthy way.
Our workplaces generate a lot of this energy. Many organizations foster feelings of competition, unworthiness, and insecurity, and most of us simply absorb that energy into our own bodies or use it to attack those around us (either accidentally or intentionally).
We're often completely unaware of how we're feeling, what those feelings are doing to our bodies, and how we deal with the energy behind those emotions. We're all walking around with the stories that we use to explain the presence of this tense energy, which don't actually help us release it.
Our workplaces would change dramatically if we simply learned how to be better stewards of this energy.
We have a choice in how we react to our environments, and taking notes from the animal kingdom seems like a great place to start. Our natural response to stress is to discharge it quickly and without attachment.
While many of us are used to creating a story around the stress (e.g., "Jane disrespected me and is a bad person," or "Larry isn't talking to me anymore because I'm incompetent"), we can change that behavior and choose a different method instead. We can hit "pause" on the story and discharge the stress so that it doesn't become toxic in our bodies or to those around us.
I should note that hitting "pause" doesn't mean that you don't deal with the external situation or simply walk away after someone causes you harm. It does mean, however, that the impact from that event is contained and released so that you can think clearly about the right action(s) to take in response. This way, your response can come from a place of ease and detachment instead of insecurity and threat.
Below are some quick, easy ways to discharge stress that comes up in your workday (or any day, really). Animals shake off stress multiple times a day, and you should feel free to do the same if you need to!
No matter what you do next, start by getting present with the stressful feelings. You can't discharge stress if you don't know that it's happening. Notice it and just accept that it's happening inside your body. Notice how it feels and where in your body it's showing up. Your jaw, neck, or shoulders might be tight. You might feel like you have a knot in your gut or chest.
Once you've noticed it, you can try the tricks below or any that you come up with on your own. The most important thing is to process the energy through movement of some kind, and to do it as soon after the experience as you can.
- Literally shake it off. Close your office door or the bathroom stall and imagine all of that ickiness coming off of you as you shake your arms, torso, legs, hands, feet, head, etc. You could also do this by dancing in the privacy of your own home (or in public!) to a song that you love.
- Flick it off. If you can't writhe your entire body, flick the negative energy off with your hands. If you're in a meeting that's totally stressing you out, you could get present with the stress, imagine it flowing like water down your arms, and then flick it off onto the floor.
- Wash your hands. Water is a great reminder to release and let go of stressors. If you just had a stressful experience with a supervisor or co-worker, you can head to the bathroom to wash your hands and just imagine all of that sticky energy spiraling down into the drain. Maybe you even dry your hands by shaking the water off.
- Breathing exercise. On an in breath, get present with the stress that you're feeling. Envision the frustration, fear, or anger in your body expanding in your lungs. On the out breath, release all of it out into the ether. Feel it leaving your body and stretch and expand as it does. Try this 1 - 3 times. Imagine peace, presence, and calm taking the place of the stress that was originally there.
If these techniques seem totally weird to you, that's okay. We've been disconnected from our instinctual natures for a long time, and reconnecting with our bodies can feel really foreign and silly.
That said, most new habits feel inauthentic at first, so I hope you'll at least give this a try and see if it starts to feel normal again. It might even help to tell your partner or a friend about it and see if they're open to trying it with you. Chris (my sweetie) and I have used the shaking technique from time to time, and it completely shifts the energy of the situation. We feel stupid when doing it, but it always works, and we feel better afterward.
I hope that if nothing else, you feel encouraged to release some stress in a healthy way today. Maybe you flick some negativity off before pouring that glass of wine after work. Or maybe you release some energy through washing your hands before you reach for that cigarette.
Whatever you can do, wherever you're starting, is just perfect.
Know someone who needs to shake it off? Consider passing this post along to them.