In the wake of a global pandemic, our nervous systems are feeling the strain. Over the course of the last sixteen months, we have all struggled in some way with the stress of change that we did not choose. And many of the clients I work with in counseling and coaching are now starting to report feeling the effects of living with underlying stress for extended periods of time.
From low levels of energy to increased inflammatory responses to high anxiety, the nervous system has taken the brunt of the blow for too long.
As things are “opening back up” and people are making plans to do more, to travel, and to gather together again, a paradoxical response is showing up. There is some relief and excitement about being able to do things that we enjoyed prior to the shut down, but at the same time, there is anxiety and fear around being social again, interacting with people face to face, and even around what actually feels safe.
In working with healing trauma, we must begin with recognizing that the nervous system takes over in times of stress and trauma so that we can survive. And when the stress is chronic, the imbalance can become the normal reaction in the system. This can mean that even when the stressor is gone, the nervous system won’t neccesarily return to “normal functioning” on its own.
This is where we must step in and begin the recalibration by, in the moment, mindfully noticing when we are in stress response. A few examples of this may be noticing that our hearts and minds are racing, that we feel nervous or “electric” in our bodies, or that we are jumpy and irritable.
As always, noticing what is happening is the first step. Next, we want to do our best to bring the nervous system back to a more neutral response and the best place to start is with the breath. Taking a deep breath in through the nose and then slowly and completely exhaling out through pursed lips so that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation will increase the parasympathetic response (which is the opposite of fight or flight). Checking in with the body and the breath periodically throughout the day can act as a home base that we are coming back to in order to re-establish safety within.
Next, creating routine in our day will also help the nervous system to know what to expect and to be able to reset a calm center. This means doing our best to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, to eat our meals at the same time every day, and to schedule in time for moving the body and for stillness. Routine may sound boring, but it is very effective at calming our system.
And finally, practicing treating ourselves like we would treat someone we love. Being kind in our self-talk, compassionate in the stories we are creating about our lives, and loving in our self-care. When we are gentle with ourselves, we can allow healing to occur with more ease and flow. A part of this also means scheduling in time for the things that help us to feel better like time outside, quiet time alone, connection with the right people, or doing things we enjoy.
This also means allowing ourselves to move at our own slow and steady pace with no expectations around how we cope, heal, and re-emerge from what we have been through. We do not have to jump back into the same things or number of things we were doing previously if that doesn’t feel right for us now. We have the choice of what to pick back up and when. We have changed in the last year and we must remember take that into account, moving forward as who we are now rather than who we were then.
I will be moving slow and steady right along with you. Reach out any time.
Chat again soon,