Feeling Awe-full? Awesome!
If you’re anything like me, human, you get stressed out. Everyone experiences the feeling of stress differently…
“I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders”
“My stomach is in knots”
“I feel like a 10,000 lb brick is on my chest and I can’t catch my breath”
My personal favorite was described by an 8-year-old who simply stated, “I think a shark bit my stomach.”
Universal truth: We can all relate to the feeling of stress.
If you’re breathing, you’re going to feel stressed at some point in your life. It may be happening right now, or it may have happened yesterday, or last week or last month, and it can be overwhelming.
But you're not alone.
We all experience this. When we’re stressed, or even anxious we tend to ruminate about the thing that is bothering us. We do this because we hope that our incessant thinking about the problem will give us some sort of control over it – if only that were true. In actuality, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle that turns out to be a huge predictor of depression and anxiety. Fortunately for us there’s a remedy, being in awe!
Awe is the opposite of rumination. Instead of being caught up in your own thoughts, you become focused on the here and now. Through awe, the thinking of “I must have control over my situation” disappears. This occurs because our brains are experiencing something beyond our everyday frame of reference. For example, it’s not every day that you fall in love, have a kid, or view the world from atop a 14,000 ft. mountain, so when we experience these events our brains become full of awe and our worries, fears and stresses wander back to their places of residence; the past or the future.
“Awe”some! –okay, I promise that was the only pun. So, experiencing awe is great for refocusing yourself on the present, similar to mindfulness or grounding techniques, but it can actually do so much more! There’s tons of research on Awe, but lucky for you I looked it all over and condensed it into 3 important chunks.
Nature is a frequent awe-generator, but that’s probably not surprising (I mean, it’s called the Great Outdoors for a reason). What might surprise you is the immune system boost and the increase in cognitive functioning (specifically attention span) that you receive by just being outside! Additionally, if you live in a big city like myself and you decide to take a stroll into nature, your body will immediately see a reduction in stress hormones and… you may even catch a Pokémon or two =)
For those who may not have the time (or the trees) to take a venture into the woods, you don’t actually have to go outside or into nature to experience the benefits I mentioned above. Truth be told, you can experience a reduction in mental fatigue and a greater attention span by simply watching a movie, TV clip, or looking at photograph. It really doesn’t matter which movie, show or photograph, just so long as whatever media you are viewing captivates you and transports you outside of your everyday frame of reference.
As human beings we all have an innate desire to belong and connect with others. Unfortunately, there are a variety of instances where connecting with others is difficult – I think we’ve all had one of those days where we want to shut the door, close the blinds and crawl into a hole (or bed). Luckily, a final take-away for Awe can help with this. It turns out that, should you experience the feeling of Awe by yourself you will paradoxically feel intrinsically connected to others. In addition to feeling more connected you might even feel a bit altruistic.
So What Now?
Well, hopefully this article has provided you with some fun facts, but more than that I hope it’s provided you with a new way of coping/handling some of your day-to-day stressors. And, for those times when the experiencing awe isn’t enough… There’s always therapy!
Kendall Campbell, MA, LMFT-Associate