Our Nervous System has Predictable Responses to Community Stress
Our bodies have an autonomic nervous system. This includes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. What we often call our “fight-flight-freeze” system is part of the sympathetic system. When we’re activated by stress, agitated, or triggered, our nervous system is hardwired to respond in automatic ways. These responses aren’t happening at the level of conscious decision-making.
Have You Spent the Past Year in an Agitated State that’s Exhausting?
Threats in our environment are always felt by the nervous system. Our nervous system has evolved beautifully to protect us in this way! Our nervous system wants to keep us safe and alive, so it’s really sensitive. A cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters fire inside of our body to prepare us to fight, flee, or freeze.
Stress and Chronic Illness
My Prediabetes Coaching clients hear me talk about how glucose is released when our nervous system feels unsafe. Our body wants us to have quick energy to run or fight! Our heart rate speeds up, and blood is sent to our major muscle groups. Another thing that happens is that our digestion stops. When traumatic experiences, messages, images, and warnings flood our everyday life, this is a concern. That’s because a body that already has a chronic illness, like high blood sugar or heart disease, suffers at a greater level. Are you feeling sad, tired, and overwhelmed? I encourage you to reach out to someone you trust.
Rest and Digest
We also have a parasympathetic nervous system which is innate within us. Often called the “rest and digest” system, it can calm things down and bring our mind/body connection back into balance. If your life has been like mine, there hasn’t been enough Rest and Digest in the past year. Our rest is often interrupted by the threat of catching the Coronavirus, worry about violence in our neighborhoods, job loss, or unrest in Washington. During 2020, we thought a lot about things that cause our adrenalin to surge. The incredible losses in American life have caused many of us to run on adrenalin, and that’s also damaging to our overall well-being.
The Light at the End of this Tunnel is Giving Us a Chance to Regroup
My conversations with coaching clients and family all circle back to exhaustion. It’s not easy to jump up and solve exhaustion! We’ll need to offer ourselves some compassion and begin our recovery slowly. The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is coming closer. We can begin, with self-compassion, onto our path toward regrouping.
Regrouping Means a New Balanced State for Our Nervous System
Living our life in both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems is normal so long as they are held in a balanced state. Achieving and maintaining a balance between these two systems requires the cultivation of self-awareness and a commitment to self-care practices.
We can begin to unwind the tight spring that has become our emotional life. I encourage you to release any guilt or shame feelings about how different your mind/body connection feels right now. So many events and circumstances beyond your control have aggravated and activated our entire society. Are you ready to be a shining light for others wanting to regain balance?
We are all activated…plenty of people are responding to that activation in a way that means aggression, rigidity in thinking, getting very myopic in perspective.Christine Runyan, Clinical Psychologist
It Can Turn Out Better for You
When the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are in balance, the tendency is to rest often, allowing for renewal and healing to the body. The balance between the two systems is a key step toward greater health and wellness! Consider some of the tips below to help keep your autonomic nervous system in check.
- Rest often
- Eat well
- Practice deep breathing or another kind of gentle mindfulness
- Cultivate contentment and notice what you are grateful for
- Focus on who and what provides you with energy vs who and what uses up your energy
- Train your mind to stay out of negative emotions such as worry, fear, anger, guilt
- Practice forgiveness, beginning with yourself
- Keep thoughts and emotions as uplifted as possible
Celebrating our Marvelous Nervous System
Our bodies are so smart! Our nervous system is wired to uplevel or decreases as our organs and circumstances change. For example, our sympathetic system knows to increase blood pressure, and the parasympathetic system masterfully decreases it. Overall, the two divisions work together to ensure that the body responds appropriately to different situations.
We can help our marvelous bodies with wise choices and lifestyle behaviors. As we all look forward to a calmer future, let’s talk for a minute about health habits we can prioritize now.
Mindfulness and Deep Breathing as a Real Way of Coping with Ongoing Stress
It’s important that we understand that paying attention to our excess anxiety is a way for our choices to override our primitive brain. What do I mean by this? Our simple observation of what’s happening in real-time can help our brain click back online. Our primitive brain can be triggered and our choice to “Tend and Befriend” ourselves can cause our brain to uplevel.
We can use our thinking minds to soften or override our automatic reactions. Our practice of mindfulness helps us practice self-compassion by naming our nervous or painful experiences. “Oh, my neck is so tight.” “Oh, this is overwhelming.” or, “My beloved seems to be upset.” When we simply name what we’re observing, it brings our thinking brain back online. And from there, we can begin to quiet our minds, choose to rest, think through options, and take a break. We can help ourselves cope.
What message are you sending your nervous system today?
When we take a little time to sit back, rest, and mindfully observe our bodies, we can attend to our nervous system. When we name what we’re experiencing, we send our nervous system a message. For instance, “Oh, OK. That phone call was upsetting. I got you. It’s OK. That wasn’t anything personal. I can take a breath and let that go. It’s ok.”
Other ways to soften our bodies and send a message to our nervous system:
- Breathe in for a count of 4. Breathe out for a count of 8. Repeat four times.
- Find a lovely scent, like a lavender essential oil, and breathe deeply for a few seconds.
- Listen to music that you find soothing.
- Ask a loved one to rub your neck for a few minutes.
- Sit upright with both feet flat on the floor. Press through the balls of your feet. Rest here for a few minutes.
I’m inspired by this: How can I begin and end each day with a moment of loving my nervous system?
#restmore #holistichealthcoach #selfcompassion #takeabreath #focusonthegood #regroup #observe