One big misconception about nervous system work that holds people back from healing physical symptoms and releasing anxiety and stress is the idea that your nervous system should be regulated all the time, and if it’s not, you’re doing something wrong.
Once we find out about nervous system regulation, it’s easy to fall into this pattern of thinking, because it generally goes along with the various ways we pressure ourselves already.
Usually, we’re pressuring ourselves incessantly without even being aware of it. Do a better job. Work a little harder next time. Get that just right.
When you see all these messages about nervous system regulation out on social media and in the coaching world in general, it’s easy to start thinking the goal is nervous system perfection.
Right now, nervous system work is all the rage. This means, of course, that there will be a lot of misinformation floating about on social media and in media publications. Pressuring ourselves to be perfectly regulated actually makes it much harder to regulate!
I recently saw a post on social media by someone who was ranting against all the pressure to regulate our nervous systems. This person suggested that nervous system activation (the fight/flight response) is a good thing in many ways and that we shouldn’t be trying to regulate our nervous systems so much. (I’m paraphrasing.)
While in some ways I agree with this, it was also a pearl-clutching moment for me that inspired me to write this post.
If you suffer from chronic pain or a chronic illness, saying that nervous system activation is a good thing is an oversimplification of a very layered and complex relationship with your nervous system.
Yes, it’s great to have a nervous system that activates in the face of danger. We want to be alerted when it’s time to run from a bear or escape a car collision because we hit the brakes in time.
Our nervous systems are geniuses when it comes to letting us know when to react fast and help ourselves stay safe.
Just the other day, I went to pick my 10-year-old up from an activity. I stepped out of the car and waved to her from across the street so she would see me. Then, before I could do anything, she stepped into the street to cross over to me, without looking for cars.
At that moment, there was indeed a car barrelling down the street to her left. I threw up both hands in a “stop” gesture and yelled “DO NOT MOVE” before I even had time to think.
She stopped abruptly and the car stopped right in front of her. We all stood frozen for a second before deciding what to do. I imagine the driver’s heart was beating as fast as mine. My daughter yelled, “I was going to stop!” angrily at me (also most untruthfully, lol). We were all activated into a fight/flight response.
My nervous system did what it was supposed to. It made me react in time and handle a dangerous situation.
However, a healthy nervous system has another job, too. That job is to regulate itself after being activated.
A healthy nervous system is a flexible nervous system.
Yes, activation is important and healthy. However, it’s necessary that once the need for activation is over, we are able to release the activation and regulate again. Regulation should be the baseline constant from which we deviate, not activation.
For those of us with chronic pain syndromes, the opposite is often the case. We live in a state of activation nearly all the time, and then drop into regulation every so often. This is normal because it’s a response to trauma, pressure, and the inner critic.
However, it’s also key to learn to flip this paradigm and create that baseline of regulation so that our nervous systems aren’t always burning the fuel an activated state requires. When we’re activated, we’re pumping out adrenaline and clenching muscles, ready to fight and flee. Our digestion shuts off. Our heart rate and blood pressure go up.
None of that allows the body to heal and reset from high stress levels and chronic tension or pain.
The more we practice our ability to regulate, the more bandwidth we have in our nervous system to handle stressors without going into activation unless absolutely necessary. As you create this bandwidth, you’ll notice interesting things:
After working with nervous system regulation for myself and my clients for the past fourteen years, I can tell you that it’s the most powerful healing tool you have for both stress-induced illnesses (TMS) and illnesses that require medical care.
If you want to help your nervous system create a strong ability to regulate and flow from activation back to regulation with ease, you’ll want to begin with awareness. Noticing throughout the day whether or not you feel activated or regulated is the key.
Maybe you notice you’re clenching your jaw, your shoulders are up at your ears, or you’re holding your stomach tight. Maybe you notice you’re not really breathing much. Maybe you notice yourself feeling irritable or tense.
These are all signs that you’re activated.
Maybe you notice that you’re able to laugh and joke, and that you are thinking positive things.
Maybe you notice that you’re feeling relaxed even as you tackle a task.
These are all signs you’re regulated.
The best approach is not to pressure yourself to be regulated more often, but just to notice that you’re sometimes activated and sometimes regulated. Then you can gently edge your nervous system toward a bit more flexibility.
You can experiment and notice what seems to help you regulate. Then implement more of this, more often. We’re all unique, so what feels regulating to you is going to be personal. It might be meditation, prayer, talking to angels, sitting in the sun, touching your toes in water, listening to music, watching or reading something funny, or snuggling up with a stuffed animal.
The goal isn’t to be regulated all the time. It’s just to become more flexible and able to regulate after activation and to move in and out of the activation state with more ease rather than staying there for hours and days on end.
Working on gentle, kind ways to improve your regulation baseline is one of the main focuses of my group program. We work together in a group setting to implement somatic, mind-body healing tools that allow you to really, truly learn to take pressure off of yourself and allow your nervous system to gain bandwidth.
This allows your body to heal, if that’s a goal you have, and also allows you to release chronic anxiety, tension, or stress. It becomes much easier to hear your inner wisdom because you’re not caught in a hyper-vigilant state. You’ll learn my complete Mind-Body Magic Method for working with all of this both for you and for your clients if you are a coach or want to become a coach.
The program is for people who want to learn how to serve others and coach from a mind-body perspective (either as a new career or an add-on to their current practice) or add mind-body tools to their current coaching practice.
You’ll also learn my Slacker Magic System which helps you manifest clients and income without the hustle!
You can learn more about this program and others here.
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