So often we look outside of ourselves for direction, and ignore our internal understanding, in particular, our body. Our body is an incredible messenger, constantly giving us signals about how we are walking through life. One system, in particular, is incredibly powerful and often overlooked, the nervous system. I, personally, overlooked it and ignored it. I was living on autopilot. From the outside, everything looked great! On the inside, I was suffering and had been for YEARS. I was living disassociated and deregulated. Hustling through life, in classic sympathetic overdrive. (There are lots of reasons for this. All of which are okay, as survival mode is a way for us to, well, survive. It is okay. I love and have so much compassion for that version of myself. She did, and my body did, exactly what it needed to do. I am so grateful.)
I was obsessed with mindset, positive thinking and visualization of the future. All of which are great, but when they keep us away from the present moment, and truly experiencing feelings and life, like for me, it is an indication of an issue. In addition, I also identify with being empathic. I intensely feel the world around me- which is deeply ingrained with a heightened aware nervous system. (To learn more see this post.) Society has long applauded this high-intensity survival mode, because it looks like a go-getter, get shit done, pressure and pushing that becomes “success”. It encourages high-fast performance, edge of your seat actions, and a last minute people pleasing attitude. However, it is often coming from a place of stress, often linked to trauma, in coherence with the body’s nervous system and desire to detect danger because we inherently crave safety.
How the Nervous System Works
The nervous system has two main places of operation. Sympathetic and parasympathetic operation. Sympathetic = DANGER! This is fight, flight, freeze or fawn (most of us have a primary response, mine is fawn or freeze.). The nervous system triggers the body to become highly aware, in-tune and on edge leading to:
increased adrenal activity by pumping cortisol and adrenaline into the body
increased heart rate
lowered digestive function
increased emotional reactivity i.e. fear, anger, guilt, shame
Vs. a nervous system in parasympathetic response = SAFETY.
This looks like a body that is:
relaxed and calm
increased digestive function
emotionally stable and fully experiencing love, joy and optimism
The Steps to a Healthy Nervous System
Why is it important to understand the differences? Because the first step in supporting our nervous system is awareness. We can begin by asking, “Where am I at?” “Where do I traditionally operate from?” This awareness begins the process of creating a pathway to observe and potentially, make change. The next step, when noticing your hyperactive nervous system response is to pause. There is truly momentum in the pause, especially when we are operating from an activated state of being. Pausing gives us the opportunity to recognize our emotions and potentially shift our response.
“How does my body feel?”
“What am I feeling?” Acknowledge the activation and allow it some space. Finally, give yourself a chance to move it. Your body is an amazing partner, and the goal is to keep you safe, which it is glad to do simply through moving the emotion (energy in motion). Healthy ways to support yourself include breathing, going for a walk and getting outside, dancing/shaking it out, or physically writing out what is coming up. (Of course, all of this is designed for low key situations or when facing stored trauma. If you are in a high stress situation, all of this may go out the window, and that is okay! Remember our body is there to support us back into safety. These tools are an opportunity to learn and heal.) Do you see how AMAZING our nervous system is?
Do you also recognize how often you may actually be in an increased place of nervous system arousal?
(Me! That was me, and I had no idea. Hello, digestive issues, increased emotional tension in my body, and physical illness…)
More Tools for Supporting the Nervous System
Alongside of those techniques, here are the products I use (and love!), daily, to support my nervous system:
Clarity- for me this oil helps me feel calm when I am stuck in my head and need to come down into my heart. It feels uplifting, cleansing and refreshing.
Bergamot- feels like a gentle hug that opens my heart while awakening my senses.
Frankincense- grounding and supportive, it is an emotional power house for my nerves.
Northern Lights Black Spruce- on my spine and lower back to support feelings of groundedness.
Supplements I use daily:
I also make sure to limit toxin exposure- because this puts further stress on the body.
When we can operate from a place of mostly parasympathetic response we know who we are and what makes us tick. We also become aware of what may cause us to stumble, and we have the confidence in our skills to come back to center.
I hope that for me and I hope that for you!
Taking the steps to begin to create a relationship with my body and my nervous system has been huge. It hasn’t always been easy and takes conscious daily (and situational) work. It will be a constant practice in my life, that I hope, continues to support health and whole wellness.
What do you do for your nervous system? How will you now start supporting your Self with more awareness?