“May you live in interesting times.”
This quote of questionable origin is described as a curse wrapped in a blessing. It is pointing to the fact that interesting times are fraught with unpredictability and chaos.
And the thing that will throw our nervous system into the highest state of alert? You guessed it: unpredictability and chaos.
We have certainly had a heaping dose of that lately, haven’t we? Our nervous system, collectively and individually, is in a state of crisis.
How are you feeling right now?
Most of you are probably not feeling that great. You are having a hard time functioning. You might not be able to breathe when you turn on the television and the news. You might even be quick to anger or attack people around you.
Other signs that your nervous system is overwhelmed are:
- Fluttery stomach
- A sensation of wanting to get up and move (‘ants in the pants’)
- A sense of impending doom or attack
- An increase in anger or the urge to be aggressive
- Shallow breathing or holding your breath
- An increased desire to engage your favorite distraction (alcohol, eating, binge watching, etc)
- An overall feeling of tension or holding your muscles in the ready for ‘something’
- A desire to hide
- A feeling of numbness or shock
- Overwhelming desire to sleep or ‘check out’ mentally
These feelings and sensations let you know that your nervous system has been engaged for action or has become overwhelmed and wants to go into hibernation. When your brain. feels like this, it goes into fight or flight mode. It responds in different ways, from feeling highly activated to very shut down.
What you do not see in this continuum is logic, the desire to connect, or the ability to engage compassion. Once the nervous system is turned on in this way, the higher levels of our brain are shut off.
We are in survival mode.
Ok, don’t panic (even more, of course). There are ways to calm your nervous system down, but it does take action. Take control of your brain and try to find the calm. Engage your senses (eyes, ears, nose, etc) and change the input to something soothing. I call these ‘sense-able’ solutions.
Here are some ideas to get you started and find your calm:
Think of these as ways to hack the body into reversing or releasing its fear/anxiety energy.
- Ears/Auditory: Play calming music by creating a Pandora or Spotify station, use fm: Music to improve focus, meditation & sleep. which has a variety of calming music to choose from but also has subliminal beats for adjusting brain activity up or down, chanting, create the sound of water either by finding a physical water fountain or YouTube videos. There are many apps that create nature sounds as well.
- Nose/Olfactory: Find a scent that calms you down. Grab some candles, essential oils, incense, or fresh flowers that immediately calms you down. Remember we have scents memory, so find that scent that brings you back to zero. I love lavender, vanilla, sage, and the smell of Ms. Meyers Lemon Verbena. I love these smells so much so that I have sprays and candles all over my house, just in case I need it.
- Skin/Tactile: Grab a fuzzy blanket. Sleep with a weighted blanket. Rock in a rocking chair. Exercise or take a walk. Enjoy nature. Grab an adult coloring book or enjoy some mindful breathing. Headspace’s Guide for Meditation is a great place to start.
- Eyes/Visual: If you are a visual person, check out some relaxing YouTube videos, such as videos of the ASMR variety or of art. Look into some picture books. Make a Pinterest board or a folder on your phone of relaxing images to view when you need them. Put some post-its of inspirational reminders around your house. Create an altar/sacred space for you to find your zen.
- Tongue/Taste: Try something new to relax yourself. Try a calming hot tea, or a little bit of chocolate. You can also chew gum when you need to relax. If you like crunchy textures, try some natural foods like celery or carrots. Look into Rescue Remedy by Bach Flowers. Be careful with this section and avoid toxic things like alcohol or any type of substances that can potentially make your stress worse in the long term.
These sense-able solutions are ideas to prompt you into creating a meaningful menu of your own. The more items you have on your menu of things that work, the more you have to choose from. Not everything will work every time so it helps to have a wide variety to work with.
Good luck on your journey of good nervous system hygiene and if you need help, call me.