In times of crises we need to be mindful of supporting our nervous system


2 practical tips to support yourself at times of great stress or crises

With any collective community crisis like the Australian bush fires in 2019/20, and now a worldwide pandemic – whether we are on the front line or further down in the trenches, it is important and helpful to allow our nervous systems to have a break from the crisis.  When it doesn’t get this break, changes happen to our brain. It can be compelling and addictive to keep checking and rechecking the news and social media. But our nervous system was never meant to be on this “fear/grief” high alert for weeks/months on end.  So how do we have a mini break from the intensity?

Two things that can be of tremendous help to our precious nervous systems – which in turn helps our physical & mental health…

  • Move our body any way that feels best – whilst breathing.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Perhaps put your favourite song on and dance, shake each limb, gently roll your shoulders, elbows, hips, ankles, stretch and jiggle about (yep I tend to do this generally in my own company). Anywhere in your body where you feel like there is stiffness or holding. Or do a 2 minutes of yoga – again whilst breathing (breath WITH movement is the key)

Why do this? Experts & authors on the effects of prolonged stress and trauma, Peter Levine (author of Waking the Tiger) & Bessel van der Kolk (author of The Body Keeps the Score), observed that it is natural for animals who have been recently stressed to move to reduce the impact of this stress on their nervous system. For example, after a zebra has closely escaped the jaws of a lion, will shake their whole body as well as tremble.  Or closer to home, my dog after I smother her with loving cuddles, when I let her get down again on the ground – she literally shakes me off – and the “too closeness” off her and therefore out of her nervous system.  We too are animals and our nervous systems operate in exactly the same way.  We also need to do this or some variation of it consciously, before it literally does us.

However, our conditioning has us believing that after a shock, we should go back and calmly sit down and get our stuff done.  Don’t make a fuss.  Get on with it.  What about our nervous systems?  If the shock and devastating bad news is relentless (as it has been with the fires/smoke) or has been too much for our body, it can get stuck in our biochemistry and tissues and may present as trembling, panic attacks, insomnia, anxiety or depression plus auto-immune conditions and many illnesses (for further reading see Gabor Mate; Bessel van de Kolk, Peter Levine if you’re interested, or of course talk with me if this feels close to what is going on for you).  This is what I did my Masters Degree on.  There is definitely hope.

  • Conscious breathing with your OUT breath longer than your IN breath. Another tip to regulate your body and nervous system until you can find the space to consciously move, is to focus on the breath – with the outbreath being a little longer than the in breath.  To begin with breathe in for 3 seconds, hold gently for 1 second and out for 4 or 5 seconds. Ideally work up to breathing in for 4 seconds, holding gently for 2 seconds and breathing out for 6 seconds.  If you find any of this difficult, or if it brings on trembling or a panic attack or anxiety, this could be a sign that you need to address some stored stressed within your nervous system.  Please then talk to a trauma informed practitioner like myself, to get more support on how to settle and regulate your nervous system.

Categories: energy, brain gut connection, immunity, mental health, depression, anxiety, auto-immunity, auto-immune, bush fire smoke, functional medicine naturopath, psychotherapy, Gestalt, trauma, nutrition for health

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