Nervous System Health Beyond Lockdown Hump Day
I heard last week that we were in the ‘hump day’ period of this pandemic...what a dreadful image that conjures up. That said we’ve still got some time to go and the latest guidelines may bring up a lot of confusion and mixed sensations.
So I offer some gentle reflections and thoughts for you to help get us over the ‘hump’ and beyond.
First of all if you are reading this you are likely experiencing some degree of a trauma response to the current pandemic. To give perspective to that this means that our biological survival mechanisms and nervous systems are being switched on. These are, in the main, fight, flight or freeze responses. When the nervous system is put into overwhelm then this is known as trauma and this doesn't have to be one event it can be a cumulative amount of stress on or nervous system. And on that note if reading this now is causing some discomfort then take a breath and maybe come back to it.
‘In many ways these responses are an excellent example of our human design.’
The fight response stemming from when in nature we would see a threat and identify that we need to fight it. This could be showing up today as getting disproportionately angry at social media, news or just a kind of burning energy.
The flight is when in nature we identify that we may need to escape. If you haven’t left your home already you may be feeling frustration at being kept where you are.
The most common response now is freeze and this is because it is the ‘play dead’ response we would often defer to when we could not see our predator. And there is nothing more invisible than a virus, right? Freeze response often materialises as sluggishness, inability to move etc. It can feel a little like calm but you’ll sense it lies on top of some energy that feels like overwhelm.
These are a primal set of responses designed to keep us alive, so in many ways these responses are an excellent example of our human design. It is only when we try to ignore these responses or label them as bad that we can cause long term undesirable patterns or associate the behaviour with shame. What we can do though is bring in conscious choice to build foundations to support a stronger and more sustainable ‘bounce back’ from any trauma.
‘It is a myth that trauma needs to be treated in some cathartic one off healing session.’
Thanks to the New York Times best seller ‘The Body Keeps The Score’ there is a lot more ‘airtime’ given to trauma. However, in some healing circles it has been given, in my opinion, a little too much emphasis on treatments having a goal orientated approach to ‘healing your trauma fast’.
This is sometimes misinformed or ill trained. It can also set us off on a whole new trauma pattern of going in too hard to fix the trauma when instead what can benefit us most is to view the healing process as one of a sustainable practice to build a better nervous system health. It is simply a myth that trauma needs to be treated in some cathartic one off healing session. Quick fix solutions also run the risk of re traumatising the individual and upsetting nervous system health even further.
‘And the best thing is a lot of what we can do to support is within our own agency.’
If you suspect you have any underlying PTSD that has been triggered by Covid19 or your levels of stress have left you feeling permanently overwhelmed or feeling stuck then please do seek professional help from a trauma trained psychotherapist or somatic therapist.
If you do feel you have been affected greatly then do seek support as soon as possible as the sooner the better is true as far as far as trauma treatment is concerned.
But for a lot of people building up our internal resources is one of the best things we can do. And the best thing is a lot of what we can do to support this is within our own agency.
Top Ways to Support Nervous System Health
‘…your body is the wisest healer you will ever meet’
First of all don’t underestimate the simple things. Our culture is geared towards looking outwardly for fixes and in actual fact your body is the wisest healer you will ever meet.
And one of the biggest thing that your nervous system reacts to? Kindness. So first of all go gently and kindly with yourself. The these at few weeks of lock down is no time to decide on reading those 50 books gathering dust, learn a new master craft or become a super mom. It is likely you will need to rest a little so don’t get fixated on ‘doing’ your way out of it by giving yourself a whole new set of demands to potentially fail against.
Also seek out those who offer kindness in their way of being and can offer some compassionate witnessing to how you are doing - this may be a friend or professional. There are also a lot of primal non verbal cues we pick up on to help co-regulate our nervous system. So seeing a friendly face goes a long way! Try for one to one video catch ups with friends where you are bot close enough to the screen to make out each others faces.
Allow yourself to play with no objective but kicking back. I heard in a resilience conference last week that soldiers in active duty have an 8-8-8 day. 8 hours of duty, 8 hours of play and 8 hours of sleep. Not only does this honour the underestimated power of play and rest but the structure also adds back some agency into an otherwise potentially paralysing state of overwhelm.
As you may have sensed I am a big advocate of the simple things as our bodies and nature’s innate healing wisdom is hard to beat (and bonus – often free)!
Listening to bird song is fantastic (our nervous system is still wired to the times thousands of years ago when we would know all was well when we heard birds as they are the first to flee in times of disaster). Recent studies have shown that a few minutes of mindful listening to bird song a day is more effective than meditation apps – and this is why!
Our first sense to develop as an unborn baby is sound and the calming sound of the sea is actually a lot like when we were sloshing around in the womb. It makes us feel at home. Sea waves also have a very large breadth of frequencies so our brain stops trying to pick out individual tones and relaxes as a result.
Other things that build good nervous system health are; singing, dancing, yoga, pilates, breath-work, meditation, a nourishing diet (not just food but other consumption such as media).
Of all of these things you can do I recommend consciously choosing one or two that you can commit to. So how do you decide on which of these to do? You let your body decide. Which of the above as you read them did your body move towards? Whatever it was, move towards that.
Lastly be prepared to be a compassionate witness for others. As we start to ‘decompress’ a little from any ‘freeze’ state healing conversations where one can talk and the other party just listens is a phenomenal relief for any pent up trauma and stress. There is no magic formula to this but it resides within our innate wiring for connection. Some helpful hints are to choose your intention before you begin to listen - often just to listen and ‘be there’ as a cognitive intention readies the body to do just that and stops us moving into ‘responding or fixing mode.’ Follow the acronym R.A.S.A. Receive, Appreciate, Summarise and Ask. Receive - intend to fully receive. Appreciate - with cues of understanding hmm, ok etc. Summarise - the odd repeat back really does witness someone’s struggle. Ask - so questions like ‘how long have you felt like this?’. Thank them for sharing their story.
If you have been touched when reading this then do reach out of seek further support and as a Somatic Therapist I can either help or direct you to a more appropriate resource.
Remember you are human, any response is a part of being human and you a likely not alone.
All my love