Transforming Chronic Stress: A Meditation Teacher’s Soulful Journey

Everything in our lives, including our chronic stress, can be a catalyst for becoming our true selves with a deeper sense of vitality, connection, and meaning.

I learned this lesson the hard way after going through a very challenging time in my life that gave me an up close and personal taste of what it felt like to experience chronic stress and the impact on my physical and emotional health.

Like many people, for most of my life, I thought it was normal to go through my days feeling anxious and stressed.

I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that the chronic tension headaches, aura-filled migraines, hormone imbalances, gut issues, restless nights, irritability, and the need to unwind with an occasional drink were all symptoms that I was experiencing the effects of chronic stress.

All of these chronic stress symptoms that I had most of my adult life improved a lot when I started my regular meditation practice over ten years ago. Meditation became like brushing my teeth, and I rarely missed a day. I settled into a false sense of confidence that I was resilient enough to handle the stressful seasons in my life.

Then, as the Universe would have it, I needed to learn yet more intimate lessons about chronic stress and, ultimately, my SELF. These lessons were significant and honestly surprising because I, as a meditation teacher who meditated every day, could get to a place where the effects of chronic stress forced me to PAUSE my entire life, which was profoundly humbling.

In my particular case, the chronic stress manifested with a whole cluster of new mystery physical and emotional symptoms that were both confusing and frightening to me.

These chronic stress symptoms arose after spending over a year being a caregiver to my aging parents and other compounding stressors.

Honestly, watching the depth of my parent’s suffering and the death of my mom in a very traumatic way was too much for my body and brain to weather, even with my regular meditation habit.

I felt caught in a storm in the vast ocean with angry skies and huge swells. My sole focus was on survival, and I felt much of my life fade away as I navigated the rough seas that began to take their toll on my boat. I felt like I was hanging on for dear life, and with such violent weather and so much out of my control, I often felt like I didn’t know if I was meant to survive.

But the storm did begin to subside, and I could see the sun starting to peak through the slowly fading dark skies. What a welcome relief!

After my mom died, I was so ready to jump right back into my life that I didn’t pause to deal with the effects that the accumulation of the stressors had on my body and brain. The storm had caused some damage, and I didn’t realize how much until I threw myself back into my life, ready to put the past and struggles behind me.

I ignored the first clues that my vessel needed repair, and this subtle diminishment of my life force energy evolved into a full-blown shutdown. With barely enough energy to get off the couch and many disturbing and confusing chronic stress symptoms, I had no choice but to turn my attention to repairing and restoring my body and brain and ultimately learning the lessons that were the gifts of what felt like a dark night of the soul.

The chronic stress that I had experienced reminded me that stress isn’t the problem, but getting STUCK is.

And that’s precisely what happened to me. My body and brain had been stuck in fight or flight for too long and then ultimately began to shut down for the survival of the organism- which just happened to be me.

While amid a profoundly stressful time, I didn’t create enough space in my life to deal with the effects that the many stressors were having on my body.

I can now see more clearly that I needed more intentional practices to shift out of fight or flight and into the rest and restore state in my body. While my meditation practices were a lifeline, it wasn’t enough to counterbalance the constant feeling of threat that my body was under.

I had been SO focused on external stressors that I ignored one of my core teachings that I share with others in meditation workshops.

Deal with the effects of chronic stress on our bodies so we can better deal with the stressors.

I hadn’t paused to deal with the effects of stress, and so my body did it for me by withdrawing my life force energy and producing other weird symptoms that stopped me in my tracks.

I knew that when our nervous system isn’t regulated, it creates endless physical and mental health problems. But I guess I had to understand what that meant by living it and how far-reaching the symptoms could be!

After much digging into the current research and how to create healing states in our bodies, I learned that at the root of many chronic symptoms and illnesses is the effect that being chronically STUCK in a state of stress has on us. The article Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System provides a helpful list to assess whether you’re experiencing nervous system dysregulation.

But the empowering part of the story is that our bodies and brains want to heal and come back into balance. And when they do, we reclaim our lives from many chronic stress-related issues that impact our lives in small and big ways.

I set the intention to heal by creating physical and spiritual homeostasis.

The article 4 Pillars For Awakening Your Best Self describes a holistic framework that integrates our bodies, minds and souls. I started with the first pillar, focusing on self-regulation with intentional breathing, limbic system regulation and vagus nerve toning to create an inner healing environment.

As my life force energy slowly returned, and the mystery symptoms began to subside, I had the energy to mine for the gold of the deeper lessons I was meant to learn – my soul lessons.

In addition to physical homeostasis at the mitochondria cellular level,  I knew I needed to achieve spiritual homeostasis. The Universe was giving me the opportunity to walk the talk as a guide for spiritual beings having stressful human experiences.

This meant that I needed to use the stressful time in my life to deepen my understanding of myself and discover my true self. My physical symptoms pointed to a deeper issue, which allowed me to use my stress and burnout to transform the lower nature of my conditioned personality into a more authentic way of being.

These crises in our lives allow us to either evolve or devolve because if there’s one thing we know for sure, staying the same is not an option.

Evolving arises when we allow the energy of our soul or higher self to propel us to a higher level of consciousness with greater love and wisdom. Devolving occurs when we allow the energy of our conditioning or personalities to keep us fearful and stuck.

Many folks get stuck because they can’t visualize their future true selves or know the steps to become them.

The Enneagram of personality is a powerful psycho-spiritual map that helps us with the process of becoming. With great self-compassion, I used this tool to see how my people-pleasing, conflict-avoidant personality led to the suppression of too much emotion, including anger, and this, combined with other personality traits and trauma, got me into a nervous system dysregulation problem.

The Enneagram also helped me to integrate what Sandra Maitri calls our “soul child,” the part of us that we had to disown to survive and that we need to reclaim if we’re going to live a vibrant and meaningful life.

The common thread I noticed in all the research and stories about healing from both physical and mental health problems is that beyond the cellular repair that needs to happen, we are being called to become different people, which means more of our true selves and less influenced by our conditioned, fearful personalities and histories.

I know I’m not the same person who walked into the storm, and while I’m glad this storm is over, I’m grateful for the lessons learned from chronic stress and the freedom I now feel to be one step closer to my true self.

If you feel called, please leave a comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!