Stepping Back As An Everyday Life Tool
We’ve probably all thought at some time or other “I can’t see the wood for the trees!” Stepping back from things is a time-honoured and powerful way to get the ‘bigger picture’. Meditation traditions and contemporary psychology have long taught the practice of observing without attachment in order to calm the mind and gain insight.
Stepping back from how you engage with something also triggers the natural relaxation response in the body. It’s a simple and effective way to train your nervous system to calm down.
The brain and body form one integral, interconnected whole: where you go in your mind, your body goes too! Prolonged periods of stress or a sudden crisis will trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response in the body’s Autonomic Nervous System. Over-stimulation such as driving yourself too hard on an exciting project or going without sleep and drinking too many double Espressos will do the same; the body doesn’t recognise the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress.
A certain amount of stress isn’t harmful, and can in fact be a good thing if the body is naturally allowed to return to its equilibrium. But the pace of modern day living usually prevents this levelling out process from happening. The drip-drip effect of relentless, everyday stress forces the body to adapt to being in a chronic state of stress, and this tends to undermine its overall levels of health and well-being.
The ‘Fight or Flight’ response lends the way we engage with everything a level of intensity that we may not be aware of because we’ve normalised it. It may manifest itself as constant tension, restlessness and needing to be busy, or over-vigilance, feeling anxious, emotional or exhausted.
We can learn to reverse the stress process through simply moderating the way we engage with whatever activity we are doing – be it thinking, working on the computer, speaking to someone on the phone or carrying out a manual task. Practised often enough during the day will gradually train the body and mind to relax. All that’s needed is a little mindfulness and a few moments.
Here’s what to do:
Stepping back exercise
- Pause for a moment and notice how you are engaging with what you are doing. Notice any intensity, tension or anxiety present. Are you putting more of yourself into it than you need? Do things feel like they are too close up or more important than is appropriate? Is there a driven quality to your approach?
- Have a sense of taking a step back from things and breathe out
- As you do so, allow the way you are engaging with what you are doing to soften
- Breathe out any intensity, anxiety and tension – imagine it flowing out from your body and mind
- Feel the ground beneath you and come back to the here and now – feeling the air on your face, sounds around you, etc
- Take another step back from everything and give yourself a moment or two to regain balance and if appropriate, get a sense of the bigger picture