Research proves that stress stored in the body has some serious health consequences. Black women especially report a higher level of psychological stress than white women in the U.S. A history of being ignored by healthcare systems and being encouraged to endure highly stressful experiences only add to these disastrous conditions. In many ways, fast-paced society has normalized living with chronic stress. Beyond this, the body is barely given a chance to release that built-up stress. Think about a time you felt a headache start to form when a troublesome colleague entered your environment or felt sudden nausea when dealing with a less than peaceful situation. In an unsettling way, stress stays in the body literally rent free. Learning how to address, ease, and confidently navigate that stress is key. 

Tayyibah Chase, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner of Muna Wellness, recognizes just how easy it is to unintentionally host stress in the body. In an interview with 21Ninety, Chase details how to identify and remove stored stress for better mental, emtional, and physical health.

21Ninety: How can people notice when they have built-up stress in the body?

Tayyibah Chase: Noticing built up stress in the body requires building awareness of our bodies sensations. We often ignore the subtle signs that our body is holding stress especially if we’re on autopilot. For many women of color, numerous signs of stress have been normalized by society or culture, deeming them “normal” or insignificant. Some potential manifestations of stress in the body include body aches and pains, brain fog, shallow breathing, digestive issues, difficulty sleeping, and chronic fatigue.

Increasing awareness of bodily sensations is a key aspect, and practicing mindfulness is one effective method. Mindfulness involves directing attention and awareness to the present moment. What sensations are noticeable in the body? Is there tension in your stomach? Are you breathing shallowly? Do you feel tension in your neck and shoulders? 

21N: What are the consequences of not addressing this form of stress?

TC: Failure to address stored stress in the body can lead to numerous disruptions in life, including physical ailments, irritability, challenges in relationships, and mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. During periods of high stress, our bodies produce elevated levels of cortisol, which can contribute to physical ailments or conditions. In some cases, people may feel numb or disconnected from the world around them, experiencing severe disconnection from their bodies. Additionally, prolonged stress might make it harder to enjoy activities you used to find fun.

21N: What are some strategies for releasing stored stress in the body?

TC: In my practice, I often recommend tips falling into three distinct categories: creativity, mindfulness, and connection.

For ‘creativity’, I recommend engaging in creative activities or consuming creative entertainment. This can serve as a powerful outlet for stress. Creativity may also involve movement, such as dance, which allows for release of tension in the body.

For ‘mindfulness’, note that practicing mindfulness brings us closer to our body’s experience in the present moment and empowers us to make choices about how we address the stress we hold. Examples of mindfulness activities include walks in nature, breathwork, progressive muscle relaxation, and even yoga.

Finally, for ‘connection’, I truly believe that we do our best healing in community with others we love and trust. Consider who you can connect with that makes you feel safe and secure. For some, this may involve bodywork by a trusted practitioner, somatic therapy with a trained psychotherapist, or being in community with loved ones. These connections provide opportunities for lowering our stress levels and increasing our sense of support and well-being.

Besides feeling greater ease in the body, the benefits of identifying and dealing with stress in the body are numerous and worth noticing early on. Where do you store stress in the body and how can you address this stress?

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.