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Give Your Nervous System a Break

Since 2012, a big part of my work has included psychoeducation and helping people retrain their nervous systems and rewire their brains (with practice) using yoga, meditation and other mind body practices.

Long before that, I was working with the mind and energy work (counselling, coaching, working with crystals and EFT).

I began to experience the body as the amazing tool for healing and transformation that it is.

Gaining more understanding about what happens in our bodies and brains and how we can rebalance, no matter how stressful life gets, was life changing for me.

I love sharing simple self coaching tools to help clients, readers and others learn to work WITH the mind body connection instead of endlessly trying to push the body into doing what the mind wanted.

We weren’t wired for this kind of ongoing stress and anxiety, I’d say, long before the thought of global pandemics even crossed my (with my personal history of anxiety) mind.

Our bodies, our brains and our nervous systems evolved to handle a simple life of general peace, gathering berries etc and only the occasional shock to the system. For example, when a sabre toothed tiger appeared and it benefitted us humans to go into the stress response to hopefully make our escape.

Up until relatively recently in human history, our ancestors would rise and set with the sun and live with more natural rhythms.

This isn’t to say that many people, throughout history, haven’t been subjected to traumas equivalent to sabre toothed tigers.

In some ways, slavery, exploitation, poverty and other abuses would be worse as the perpetrators were from the same species, our fellow humans.

But for many, life was generally safe, peaceful and much slower than 21st Century living where we could work and play around the clock.

BP (Before Pandemic), I’d explain how even the THOUGHT of an email could trigger the same physiological response as what our ancient ancestors would have felt when they sensed an actual predator.

Because our lives were so filled with potential stresses, sometimes, we didn’t even need the stressful thoughts for the HPA-Axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) to flood the whole system with stress hormones.

This is why chronic stress so often leads to anxiety and, if not dealt with, depression, chronic fatigue and other auto-immune issues.

Our nervous system wasn’t built to withstand the onslaught of cortisol.

Exciting, fun things lift the nervous system as well as stressors – cortisol isn’t all bad at all.

But we need to balance that excitement with downtime, rest and the time and space we need to recharge.

When we don’t, things like sleep can become an issue as it’s too big an ask to expect the body (well, mind) to go from 80km an hour to resting just like that.

And that has a knock on effect on everything from heart health and immune function to being able to THINK and get through the day with relative ease.

For those of us on lockdown, in some ways, we’re getting back to basics. Some of us are able to make some time, at least, to ground with things like cooking, cleaning, gardening and getting organised.

Some people are learning new skills.

Others are hanging on by a thread.

Our bodies are responding to the news, our social media feeds (depending on what you fill yours with) and our own well developed imaginations as if endless flocks of sabre toothed tigers were chasing us down.

Constantly.

On the one hand, things may look pretty peaceful and chilled.

On the other, endless figures about people with the corona virus, testing positive for Covid 19 and even dying means there’s likely to be a part of us mentally running through our loved ones hoping all are safe, healthy and well.

RTE News reported a lovely story the other day about an 82 year old man with ‘underlying health conditions’ who had made it through and was heading home from the hospital feeling pretty great and advising others to not overdo it on the news.

I find it quite heartening to see so many around the world putting the greater good ahead of our own convenience but as well as missing normal treats, many people are hearing lots of expert advice about the world not being a safe place for them.

Supermarkets are suddenly seen as dangerous places to be.

And while our ancient ancestors would have had an eye and ear out for danger while they gathered food and water, Covid 19 is not something we can see or even necessarily sense.

Whether you are ill yourself, are worried about ill loved ones, grieving being with loved ones (either because they’ve died or you simply MISS them on lockdown), worried about getting ill, worried about others GETTING ill, worried about your job or already dealing with the stress of worrying about paying bills having lost your job…. that’s a lot of worry.

How does it feel to acknowledge that even though you’re getting on with things, you’re processing an enormous amount?

And we don’t have our usual coping mechanisms. Whether you’re missing bars, restaurants, the cinema, museums, galleries, the gym, the pool, the sea… the PEOPLE, that all takes its toll too.

Many of us are exceedingly fortunate to be in lockdown while having access to internet, tv, warmth, electricity, fridge freezers and cupboards with enough food.

I spent so much of my adult life in tiny studio flats with no access to outdoor space, I’m enormously grateful for the lane I get to walk and my garden and field.

AND it can still be a scary, stressful, lonely and painful time.

I’ve been sharing loads of meditations and mind body practices to help people manage stress and anxiety around Covid 19.

I’ve had days where I see all my online clients and supervisees and also have the energy to do other things.

My spring cleaning and unpacking are still very much works in progress as are most of the basic enough for me DIY projects I thought I’d be ploughing through.

There’s a big ol’ gap between what Imaginary Lockdown Me was going to accomplish and what I’m getting done.

And that’s OK.

Self care is more important than ever as we navigate this global pandemic and restructure our lives and work and ways of being to help create a more sustainable new normal.

Yup, more pressure. I reread that sentence. But I’ll keep it because SOME days, we might have the energy to really process what this might mean for us, to do BETTER when ‘normal life’ resumes.

My morning yoga, meditation and EFT have become even more important to me in terms of both grounding me and preparing me mentally for the day ahead.

Checking in with myself during these morning practices helps me adapt my day where possible depending on my energy levels and mood.

And, of course, a stronger, more dynamic yoga practice (for mornings where that feels good) helps me burn off more off those stress hormones so they’re out of my system rather than making me feel jittery and wired long into the day.

Other mornings, it’s very gentle.

You can choose some elements from these videos if you’d like. Even choosing one pose to start with each day will help you become that bit friendlier with your own body and mind.

I usually time my government allocated walk or bike ride for later in the day so I can, again, burn off some of the additional stress hormones.

I have dug out my mini trampoline for the Imaginary Me who was going to start using that again and getting super fit but, so far, haven’t used it.

I’ve become an even bigger fan of naps and while drifting off recently, realised that my efforts to offer as much support as possible were not sustainable for me.

With this in mind, I’m taking some pressure off myself by stopping my usual #MondayMotivation blog posts so there’ll be new content each #SelfCareSunday and #WednesdayWisdom but that allows me a little more breathing space.

How Might You Give Your Own Nervous System a Break?

When you think about your own schedules, what pressures can you take off yourself?

How can you start the day with some exercise and burn off some of that excess cortisol?

How can you make the most of your government allotted outdoor exercise (assuming your government allows it at this time) time for mental as well as physical health?

In the absence of my swims, I’m taking longer walks. I’ve always been one to leap off my bike or stop walking to take pics but am noticing myself allowing more time for this as spring starts showing up in the hedgerows and the lambs are still gamboling.

How can you replace your regular exercise?

How might you start something new?

What makes you smile? You might not have lambs but there’ll be SOMETHING you can fit more of into your days.

How can you break down enormous expectations into smaller, more manageable chunks? To build your confidence by seeing results?

Also, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, make time in your day for breaks.

It might feel as if you’re not doing much but we’re in the middle (or early stages or late stages – we don’t know. And uncertainty can be exhausting) of something messy.

Nap when you need to.

Take some time in Savasana

Reconnect with your breath

Because we’re exerting ourselves almost constantly with these stressful thoughts, breaking several times a day (ideally after obvious exertion but any time you feel the need) will help remind you to take it that bit easier.

To listen to your body and notice what you need right now.

Connect with your body’s natural healing capacities (NOT an alternative to medical care, obviously) with this special Covid 19 meditation

Send Metta to everyone you love and all the people – known to you and ‘statistics’ that still make you sob – who could use that loving kindness energy

Connect with your body’s natural antidote to the Stress Response with the Relaxation Response

Honour any loneliness, ground yourself and balance the brain by giving yourself a Butterfly Hug

Bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Create some mental, physical and emotional space with a simple breath practice

Spend some time connecting with Future You to access that wisdom already within you and support yourself through this.

Do everything you can to get and stay as grounded as possible.

Use your mind, body, heart and soul to support you.

Access additional ideas HERE

These are just a few ideas which I hope you’ll find helpful. If you’d like more tailored support, you can get in touch to find out how we might work together.

With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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