Hello Wonderful Ones,
Do you experience a racing heartbeat or tightness in your chest when you read the news, hear a pandemic story, or realize you have to home school your 3 children for the rest of the school year? I do.
This happens because of our sympathetic nervous system. When our brain senses a threat, it triggers the fight-or-flight response, a function of the sympathetic nervous system which is one branch of the Autonomic Nervous System.
The other branch of the autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system and this plays the primary role of calming your body. For example, when I run away from a bobcat, I am in flight response. My sympathetic nervous system is coaching me on what to do. After I return to the safety of my car, my parasympathetic nervous system signals to the brain that the threat is gone, so in turn my stress response ends. Now that I’ve resolved the threat, I can return to a state of peace and calm. My breathing deepens, my heartbeat regulates, and my thinking is less reactive and more methodical, linear, and objective.
When you can’t resolve a threat through the typical stress response of fight-or-flight (you can’t exactly run away from or physically fight a virus) your body decides to “check out.” This is the feeling of being trapped, numb, overwhelmed. When we can’t fight or flee, we freeze. The freeze response, however, is the least effective response and often most pathologically impairing of the nervous system. One critically important and effective way to work with our nervous system when we identify a freeze response is by harnessing our anxious thoughts.
The story you tell yourself about your stressors can dictate the level of anxious response in your body. And the story you tell yourself is based on how you are interpreting your situation. This interpretation lays out the potential for how chronic your stress will be. If you know that your stressors are not going to end anytime soon it’s important to minimize your perception of the threat. Do this by shifting how you respond mentally. For example, rather than thinking about social distancing as being stuck in your house indefinitely, think about being home as a way to contribute to public health, a chance to slow down, an excuse to do very little. In all honesty, we may not have another excuse to be this unproductive! Look for the opportunity in the circumstances that can up-level your thinking. Ask yourself, “is there a different lens I can look at this through.” Steer your brain in the direction of sending messages that trigger calmer responses in your body.
If you’re actually safe in the present moment but your body feels like it’s threatened because of thoughts you’re having about things that may or may not happen in the future and are entirely out of your control, it’s important to talk your way through that differentiation. When you’re in a hyped-up state of perceiving everything as a threat you are channeling all of your resources towards your sympathetic nervous system for managing those stressors. You literally have nothing left over to support emotional regulation.
So, let’s say you’ve read the news… tragic again; lost a month’s income again…heartbreaking; heard about someone hospitalized or dying… traumatic; trying to upgrade zoom so your 11 year old is not cut off every 40 minutes during class… annoying! However, right at the moment your nervous system is digesting all of the above your 8 year old bounces into the room asking how to spell “donkey.” Innocent, cute, but you lose your sh*t. You’re not losing it because your 8 year didn’t know how to spell D-O-N-K-E-Y or because you’re annoyed she didn’t think she should try to figure it out before asking you, you lose it because you’re in the middle of 88 things in the same moment. You lose it because your nervous system has nothing left to emotionally regulate you with. You lose it because your reserves for tolerance have been used up by the hyped-up state of your sympathetic stress response. (Personal example? Yup, true story!)
We need to aid our nervous systems by coping with our emotional response. We do this by creating an internal narrative that creates a greater sense of hope and acceptance. If the present moment is a safer place to be then mulling over future uncertainties or past regrets, then please steer your conscious thoughts back to the present over and over again. Your nervous system, your children, your pets, your partner and your friends will all be so grateful. If you need help with this concept and with building this muscle I am here and available and honored to help harness your thoughts.
Please, Please, Please, take note of these two important things:
Lastly, for the duration of this crazy time in our lives I have changed my schedule page so that you can now do same day bookings.
We don’t know when the tears will come and I’d like you to know that I am here if you need to process, unload, vent, strategize, and harness the crazy.
As always, sending love. L
Laurel Solé, LCSW www.laurelsole.com