The Moment Of Truth

I threw up an hour before my meeting and put a hand to my forehead to check for a fever.

Damn. Normal.

The lack of a fever meant that in all likelihood, my visit to the porcelain god was due to nerves, rather than illness.

A mix of anger and frustration followed the same track from my belly to my throat that my breakfast had travelled the minute before on it’s way out.

But unlike the food, the anger-frustration emotional cocktail stayed lodged in my throat with the same pressure and bitter taste as an oversized vitamin.

As pressure in my throat started to ease, the negative voice in my head started weighing in on my situation.

The voice said, “When are you going to start acting like you actually deserve this job? Couldn’t you be confident for once?  The clinic is counting on you and this is the best you can do?”

As the newly appointed director of a PT clinic, I had a meeting scheduled with a local physician to promote the clinic and discuss a referral relationship.

I had met this physician briefly a few months earlier, and knew him to be pleasant and funny, with a calming vibe similar to Mr. Rogers (minus the cardigan sweater).

In the days leading up to the meeting, I thought I had convinced myself that I felt confident. Any surge of adrenaline or a racing heart I wrote off as excitement about the meeting.

With the recent re-appearance of breakfast, I had to face the truth that my body was not convinced and was reacting as if I had a meeting with Kim Jong-un rather than Mr. Rogers.

The benefit of having physical symptoms of stress is that your body becomes the mechanism that alerts you to a dissonance between what you WANT to feel versus what you ACTUALLY feel.

In essence, your body calls bull%&it when you aren’t being honest about your true feelings. It can also alert you to the presence of thoughts or feelings you weren’t consciously aware of.

The biggest challenge I see for most people who have physical symptoms of stress is recognizing the symptoms as a sign of mental dissonance.

Often times, I see people either blowing off their symptoms as unrelated to their stress or blaming their bodies as having “failed” them.

What I suggest instead is that you look at your physical symptoms as a “check engine light” that tells you that you need to do some further exploration into how you really feel.

How To Explore Physical Symptoms of Stress

1- Acknowledge the gap between how you want to feel and what you actually feel.

As I approached my meeting with the doctor, my “want” was to be confident. How I actually felt was afraid.

I was fearful that I was going to make a bad impression, look stupid and damage the reputation of the clinic.

Basically, my mind decided that this one meeting was going to make or break the future of the clinic. (No biggie, right?)

And I believed that in order to do a good job, I had to be over-the-top confident in order to prove myself. So I pushed down all of the fearful thoughts that threatened to ruin my confidence.

2- Identify the thought or belief that is creating the gap in #1.

The thought that created the gap for me was “I can’t feel nervous and do a good job.”

Because I believed this this thought, I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge any of the feelings I had around being afraid or nervous.

Unacknowledged fears don’t go away, they get more powerful.

Newton’s Third Law Of Motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The more forcefully you push your emotions down inside of you, the more forcefully they will come back up and be expressed physically.

The common pathways of physical expression include: crying at unexpected times, digestive distress (including vomiting), frequent headaches, chronic pain, and fatigue.

3- Look for signs that the “gap thought” is creating suffering for you.

Thoughts that create suffering will make you feel trapped or tense, like there is only one way or one chance for you to succeed. Or the thoughts might make you believe that you are somehow broken, and incapable of creating the success you want.

Martha Beck labels beliefs that create suffering for you as “poison”.

Thoughts that create suffering slowly kill your spirit and self esteem, making you wither inside as quickly as a plant that was accidentally sprayed with Weed-B-Gone.

When you physically ingest poison, one of your body’s defense mechanisms is to vomit to get the poison out of your body.

In my case, I was vomiting because I had ingested emotional poison, i.e. my belief that I couldn’t be nervous and still do a good job.

4- Create a new belief.

In the hour I had between throwing up and meeting with the physician, I had to let go of the idea that I wasn’t going to be nervous at the meeting.

I created a new belief that allowed the possibility for me to have a good meeting regardless of my nerves.

My new belief was “I can be nervous and have a successful meeting.”

5- “Taste test” your new belief.

One of my favorite quotes from the Buddha is “Just as we can know the ocean because it always tastes like salt, we can recognize enlightenment because it always tastes of freedom.”

As you are trying out your new belief, check in with your body and notice how you feel inside. If you feel lighter, freer or more open, then your new belief is helping you (rather than poisoning you).

When I taste tested my new belief, I felt more relaxed in my body. By acknowledging my nerves, I actually felt less nervous and felt some of my confidence return.

Your body is wired to be the lie detector when how you want to feel and how you actually feel aren’t in agreement. Physical symptoms that show up when you are under stress can be the gateway to help you release thoughts that are causing suffering for you.

Using these steps can will help you reduce stress and get your mind and body back on the same page:

1- Acknowledge the gap between how you want to feel and what you actually feel.

2- Identify the thought or belief that is creating the gap in #1.

3- Look for signs that the “gap thought” is creating suffering for you.

4- Create a new belief.

5- “Taste test” your new belief.

What was a time when your body helped you recognize thoughts or situations that were stressing you out? Did you recognize it at first? Share below!