I am stopping by today to share a tiny bit about what I have been diving deep into personally this past year, and how my work is becoming more focused in this area…the stress response, health and the nervous system. While this blog is a little longer than I would like, there is SO much more I want to share about this topic. It was hard to cut it down to what is below…Let me know how it lands with you!
Your nervous system’s ability to handle stress is THE key factor that determines your well-being and health. Each of us has a unique capacity to handle stress based on a few factors; which we won’t get into here (another topic for another day).
Illness and dis-ease often manifests when your body is unable to self-regulate and complete the stress response, therefore leaving your body “stuck” in a state of fight, flight or freeze. Anything incomplete stays…meaning, it gets stored in your body.
Imagine wanting to stand up to someone that is treating you unfairly, but being too afraid to. You have the impulse to lay a boundary and say something, but worry about the consequences. So you stay quiet, move onto the next thing and “let it go”. While you tell yourself you “let it go”, your body says otherwise. The energy of that impulse to “fight” has nowhere to go and is held within your body. Imagine how much energy gets trapped when this is a repeat experience with a boss or maybe a family member. Then multiply it by all the other stressful situations in your life where you feel you have to suppress your authentic expression.
Over time, stored stress builds up leading to dis-ease (physical or mental) like digestive issues, chronic anxiety, poor immune health, heachaches, chronic fatigue, heart disease and so on.
In a highly overstimulating and triggering world full of stressors, this is everything. One of the first steps to regulation (and building capacity) is to connect with your body and be present to what you are experiencing, without judgment or story. You have to tune into your body in order to sense what your body needs in order to regulate.
Is your body needing to rest and relax? Or express and release? (ps – it’s not always about “calming down”)
BEing with your experience is key. Become aware and present to your feelings, the sensations in your body, and your impulses.
Here are 2 of my favorite ways to assist my nervous system in regulating:
1.Lower Belly Breathing:
Breathing quickly and shallowly in and out of the mouth from your chest is what happens when you are stressed, and your fight/flight system (sympathetic nervous system) is activated. The issue is that many people are breathing this way everyday, ALL day long.
Use the following breath pattern to shift your body into your parasympathetic NS (rest/digest/heal mode) and connect deeper within.
Start in a comfortable position, sitting up or laying down. Place one hand on your heart and one on your belly. Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath. Breathe normally and notice what your hands do.
Is one moving more than the other? Which one? Are you breathing out of your nose or mouth?
Next start to intentionally take medium breaths from your lower belly, in and out of your nose. You want the hand on your belly and rise on the inhale and fall on the exhale. Breathe deeply into your lower belly, expanding this area 360 degrees, including your whole pelvis region.
Take 10 medium-to-full breaths and see how you feel. To further calm your nervous system, extend your exhales to be longer than your inhales. Ex. inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 6-8.
2. Get on All Fours:
Get in a table top position on the floor, like in yoga. Ensure you have a soft surface below you. Feel your hands, knees and feet connected to the ground below you and how they are supporting your body in this position. Allow your neck to soften and your head to hang heavy. Do this slowly allowing your head and neck to relax as much as possible.
Feel the tension release to the floor. Now do the same with your belly. Allow it to completely relax. The key here is to move very slowly. Focus on how this feels in your body. Notice your breath.
Feel free to stay here as long as you like. Follow any other organic movements or stretches your body is asking for – sway side-to-side, roll your neck or hips, push back into a child’s pose, dip one shoulder than the other.
There is no way you can do this wrong. Simply feel, breath and let your body move as it wishes. Make sound if you feel the urge. If emotion comes up, let it move you. You could even practice embodying a four-legged animal you resonate with and tap into your primal instincts. Feel free to put on some music to enhance the experience.
(note: if you have any neck issues, be cautious and avoid any movements that could cause pain or injury)
If you feel called to try one of these, go slow. The nervous system is delicate and responds best to tiny baby steps. This is not something to push yourself in. The whole point is to slow yourself down and be present.
PS: I am not an expert on the nervous system (working on it!). It has been a huge area of interest for me personally and professionally over the last year, and I have to share. Here are some of the experts whose work I have been following:
- Irene Lyon, Nervous System Specialist
- Suzanne Gunderzen of Transformed Connections
- Dr. Gabor Mate, author of When the Body Says No
- EastWest Healing; Jeanne and Josh Rubin
- Kimberly Johnson of MagaMama