A challenging time

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi

I will go out on a limb and say that everyone has stress. Finding joy may feel impossible in the face of the world’s problems, money worries, family concerns and wondering about our future.

As humans, we all want to feel safe, respected and that we belong. All three may feel difficult to achieve.

I’m here to tell you there are answers to solving our stress. We can find joy in the most challenging moments with practice and dedication.

Being you

Our emotional states and behavior are a direct result of habits we develop during our lives. How we feel about ourselves and others, how we react to stress, what we say (or don’t say) to people who challenge us, or when we experience anxiety, fear or anger can all be learned behaviors.

We develop habitual reactions to situations as a way to manage our emotions, often from when we were young and vulnerable. Those habits worked for us at the time. But once we are adults, those same habits constrict us. Check out the articles “Why Coaching?” and “Who We Are” for more details.

The new science

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The medical community used to believe humans had a “fixed mindset.” Once we hit a certain age, as early as seven years old, whatever our habits, conditioning and personalities were, there we would stay. Our intelligence, abilities, and talents were fundamentally unchangeable.
Luckily, this is entirely false.

The medical term “neuroplasticity” brings us to a “growth mindset.” Far from being fixed, with time and effort, we change ourselves for the better. We develop new skills, enhance old ones, and work through failures and challenges to expand even more. That includes changing how we emotionally respond to challenges and failures. We are better at finding joy.

Presence and Awareness

Photo by Ales Maze

Simple, though not necessarily easy. But as neuroplasticity tells us, awareness and presence are simply skills we can develop with time and effort.

I’m throwing around the terms “presence” and “awareness”–let’s talk about what they mean practically.

Awareness means “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact.” It becomes a superpower when we are aware of the input of all our senses, including ones you may not have considered.

We see, smell, hear, taste and touch the world around us. Presence means soaking up the information available to us right now. We may need to prioritize–there’s a lot of information to take in. When looking to understand ourselves, we can focus on fewer senses. The two that bear the most fruit regarding self-awareness are knowing our emotional states and our body’s physical sensations.


Here’s your 50-cent word for the day: interoception. Interoception is the sense we have inside our bodies. The tingle of excitement when something fun is about to happen, the dropping feeling in your stomach when you worried you hurt someone’s feelings, a constriction in your throat when you feel like you might cry. These sensations are our bodies speaking to us. Those physical sensations give us our first clues when we are unsure how we are feeling.

You may think, “Stacy, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t feel my body at all.” And that’s perfectly normal. Many people don’t because the body feels shutting down strong feelings is the safest option. If you have difficulty feeling your body or emotions, I recommend you begin with a skilled therapist.

If it feels safe, try a simple exercise: Recall when you felt joy, peace, love, or another positive emotion. Place yourself at that moment. See the place in your mind’s eye, and remember the smells and sensations. Now check into your body. What do you notice? You may notice some tingles, warmth, or pressure. Focusing on those sensations, no matter how small, help you gain greater awareness of your own body, which allows you to live in the present moment with more of yourself intact.

Gaining awareness

How do we gain more awareness of ourselves and our reactions? One way is to set the intention to begin noticing ourselves and our responses. For example:

You’re in a heated discussion with someone at work, and they say something that hurts. Your brain turns off, and you feel frozen in place and can’t think how to respond. You may not notice until later that you had a freeze response to the comment. And now that you are calm, you think of all the points you wish you had made but didn’t occur to you then. We’ve all had that frustrating moment of thinking of the perfect comeback hours later. Please don’t assume it’s our fault; our body ran the show for the rest of that conversation. But full points for noticing your freeze response!

Now you know that specific comments can trigger you. During a future heated discussion, you may notice that you are beginning to freeze. You may not be able to change your reactions then, but you see more quickly that you’re triggered.

The time and place of the discussion, who makes a comment, whether the comment triggers a limiting belief or reminds you of a challenging experience–you learn more about your reactions, why they happen and can hold yourself in compassion. With time, effort and awareness, you may learn to understand why you freeze. And in that triggering moment, you can pause, breathe, and become more grounded and centered in your body.

Centered and grounded

When we are centered and grounded, we stay out of survival response and stay in our calm, present selves.

When we are calm and present, we can have choices. Rather than freeze in a survival response, we stop to think about what we need at that moment. We choose what to say. We might still decide to shout our anger, but we do so as a choice, not a reflex.

I highly recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk and Healing Trauma by Peter Levine as additional resources. They offer insights and exercises to help heal the nervous system.

You may think, “I don’t know how I’d ever get to the point where I can do that!” We all can use support to break out of our conditioning. 

During coaching, you learn techniques that help you center and ground in a difficult moment, where you can be fully yourself. Noticing is just one of many methods that heal our reactivity. And it goes further than that. We can transform how we feel about ourselves and relate to others, and uncover desires and dreams we’ve suppressed for years because they didn’t seem possible. Finding joy becomes a part of our daily lives.

Click below to schedule a complimentary call to learn more.