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#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 6: Beliefs

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 6: Beliefs

Welcome to Day 6 of #write28days of Nervous System Regulation! Today’s topic is “beliefs.”

Beliefs – about yourself and other people, about God, about your situations or illnesses – all play a huge role in the ability of your nervous system to regulate.

While it is thought that you can’t actually *control* your nervous system and it’s regulatory ability (it is running subconsciously), your thoughts can and do inform your nervous system about your interpretation of your life.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying you are causing a symptom, for example, to appear because of your beliefs. It is not “all in your head” nor have you “caused” your disease or your life problem. But they very much could be caused by a nervous system that is just doing it’s job of protecting you, but may be stuck due to past situations and/or current beliefs. (Of course not every issue – but I’m speaking here of the ones that are.)

What are some beliefs you might have that affect your nervous system?

Beliefs about God and His love and sovereignty and power.

Beliefs about your body – what your symptoms might mean or what your body is capable or incapable of.

Beliefs about yourself, many of which were put there in your first formative years. Do you tell yourself you’re stupid when you make a mistake? Or that you’re no good at X, Y, or Z?

Belief that I am safe/not safe — this one is often very subconscious. You may be objectively safe sitting in your living room, but your body may have other ideas.

A good start towards nervous system regulation is to really think about your beliefs.

Get still and really ask yourself “What is this about” when you feel off, and then listen to what you mind and body are telling you. Even if it sounds weird – just honor that intuition for awhile.

Listen to your self talk and replace negative things with truth: “I’m an idiot!” can become, “I am objectively smart but I made a mistake and mistakes are OK.” “I’m never going to get better” can be replaced with, “I am OK in this moment and every day my body is designed to heal me. I will honor and work with it.” “I can’t do math” can become “I struggled in school because I wasn’t taught in a way that worked for me, but I’m older now and can learn it more easily.”

A lot of nervous system regulation is actually limbic system regulation – the limbic system deals with emotions among other things. You don’t have to believe you are actually in a situation to have your limbic system react to it. This works both for good and for bad. In a bad way, your limbic system can believe you are unsafe even when you are safe, like I described before.

But in a positive direction, you can imagine that you are somewhere lovely like a beach, and if you bring up the emotions and sensations associated with that – warm sun, peaceful feeling, happiness, the smell of salt air and sunscreen, etc, your limbic system with react as if you are there.

Do this on a regular basis and you can train your system to calm down and give it the capacity for more regulation.

What would be your lovely situation to imagine? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 5: Safety

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 5: Safety

Welcome to #write28days where I am writing on the topic of Nervous System Regulation! Today’s focus is: Safety.

The topic of safety is a huge one in nervous system regulation. In fact, the whole reason your nervous system gets and sometimes stays dysregulated is that it feels it is not safe.

Now that is a *good* thing if you are truly unsafe in the moment. I’m not going to list ways that could be — I’m sure you can imagine an instance where your body needs you to make a quick decision for your immediate safety. But today’s stressors are often less in need of an immediate run for safety and are more cognitive stressors: a job loss, a chronic illness, or even too much to do and not enough time to do it. Or it could be that you had severe stressors in your past and not now, but your body is “stuck” in fight or flight. These can all lead to a chronic feeling in your nervous system that it is not safe.

What we need to do, that I briefly touched on in Day 1 of my Nervous System Regulation series, is develop a deep sense of “felt safety” in our bodies.

Who, me?

You may not even know you need this, because you have had nervous system dysregulation for so long, that being in fight/flight is like the air you breathe – it is there all the time and you don’t know any different. I know this was the case for me. I have even learned that in many instances when I *did* feel calm, it was actually me dissociated to such a huge degree that I wasn’t really “all there.” But more about that another day.

This is a good video by therapist Irene Lyon regarding developing a sense of deep safety in your body.

Some things I am doing to enhance my sense of safety

Feeling completely safe in my own skin is something I’m not even sure I fully understand, as I don’t believe I’ve ever felt it. But I am beginning to feel inklings of it. I’m confident with patience and continued practice I will get there.

Some things that help me are:

*Scriptures about and knowledge of God’s power, particularly Psalms 91 and 23, and Exodus 14:14.

*Employing embodiment practices : sometimes simply sitting and focusing on the sensations I feel in my body, sometimes qi gong, or Feldenkrais exercises. I don’t believe everything typically talked about in the qi gong videos, but I just say my own thoughts about God or prayers during those times. Sometimes I just breathe slowly and move about with my breath however I feel like.

*Sitting with curiosity about about my symptoms like I discussed here.

*Slowing down, especially my breathing and internal “intensity”. I have a sticky note on my wall by my door that says, “Slow everything down by 10%”

*Learning about and practicing boundaries. This is not easy and did not make me feel safe at first, but the more my body and self know that I will stand up for it, the safer it starts to feel.

*Being patient with myself. Again, and again, and again.

And…again.

Because you can sometimes feel worse before you feel better, I recommend you have some guidance or help with this, or at least do a lot of reading on the topic before you just pick a practice to try on the fly.

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day4: Community

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day4: Community

Ah, community. A hot button topic in my life. First off, welcome to Day 4 of #Write28days of Nervous System Regulation! It is good to have you here.

I’m going to get a little personal here, so you know where I’m coming from. Some backstory, as they say. A few years ago, I made a very difficult decision to set boundaries with my family of origin (my adoptive family) that they did not like one bit. It resulted in being cut off. To say it was painful was an understatement – I had just lost my family, again. I believe this is what turned my manageable chronic illness into a severe, and at the time, unmanageable one. And as I laid in bed for months, and then years, my friends quickly fell away. I don’t blame them for not knowing how to deal with me, but it was (and is) still hard. I turned to the internet and FB, only to find a large group of people — people who I thought were IRL friends from long ago — mocking my feelings about a topic of huge personal importance to me (which is unfortunately a hot button topic these days). So I lost them too, because I decided leaving Facebook was more important for my health than staying and having “internet friends”.

But this left me with pretty much zero community outside my husband and children. And I don’t think this is all that unusual among chronic illness sufferers.

Community, I think, can be hard to come by these days, even for healthy people. But, I am told by experts in the field, it is essential for proper nervous system regulation. They call regulating with others “co-regulation” and it is a large part of being a healthy human.

So where does that leave those of us who struggle to find community? I’ll talk about my personal thoughts on the subject, because I am no expert. First, like all brain regulating practices, I know finding and maintaining community is a marathon and not a sprint. People come and go in our lives, and I will find a new group over time. As I heal I can work on connecting again with some of those who fell away, if I so desire.

But a HUGE thing that I need to work on first, is community with myself. Through a childhood fraught with stress, I learned that to lose myself was the only way to survive. Fifty years later, I realized I had no sense of self, I was an empty shell who morphed only to please others. It had always been safer that way, until my body said, “ENOUGH!”

So now I have to learn to meet myself. Who am I, really? And learn to befriend myself, and accept both my light and dark sides. Only when I can become in community with my true self can I properly move out into the world. Then the people I meet will know the real me, like her or not.

I hope you, dear readers, can glean something useful from my little dips into these topics. If you find yourselves too overwhelmed by anything I am discussing, please step back and find a qualified person to guide you through.

Please join me tomorrow, when the topic will be on: safety.

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 3: Fascinating

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 3: Fascinating

Welcome to Day 3 of #write28days where we write every day of February on a topic, guided (if we so choose) by word prompts supplied by Anita Ojeda. This weeks prompts fit in well with my topic of nervous system regulation– today’s word is: Fascinating.

I hope you all know how fascinating I think each and every one of you are, simply because you are human and worthy of my delight, fascination, and respect? Well, I do think that. 🙂

As a (former) psychobiology major and current voracious reader and studier of life, I also know that the human body is fascinating. I am sure, as well, that despite all we know scientifically about the human body, we only have scratched the surface of it. It is even more amazing than we know.

So what does this have to do with nervous system regulation?

When you begin to see yourself with compassion and fascination, you can start to practice one of the tenets of brain retraining – observing yourself with curiosity. What does this mean? Let me give you a few examples. Let’s say you find out your friend was talking about you behind your back. You are upset and feel many different emotions. You feel very worked up. This is a good time to observe what you are feeling with curiosity and NOT judgment. You could wonder with curiosity about just which emotions you are feeling — is it anger? grief? betrayal?–and then accept them as normal reactions. You could notice the physical sensations you are feeling, like a hot face and tense stomach, with an “hmmmm, very interesting” attitude.

Or perhaps you are having symptoms of a chronic illness, which is what brought me personally into the brain retraining and nervous system regulation realm. Symptoms can be very overwhelming and scary to an overburdened nervous system. One step to overcoming that is accepting them with curiosity and not fear: “Oh, my muscles hurt today. That’s interesting. Thanks for talking to me, body. I’m really dizzy, too, more than yesterday. Hmmm. Yes. I see you, nervous system, you are fascinating!”

Now, I understand that this is not always easy. If there is anything I am learning about nervous system regulation, brain retraining, and chronic illness healing, is that it is a marathon not a sprint, and it has many hills and valleys. It is becoming a beautiful and fascinating journey though, and I’m here for it!

I hope you, dear readers, can glean something useful from my little dips into these topics. If you find yourselves too overwhelmed by anything I am discussing, please step back and find a qualified person to guide you through.

Please join me tomorrow, when the topic will be on: community.

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 2: Broken

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 2: Broken

I’m joining Anita Ojeda for #write28days where we write every day of February on a topic, guided (if we so choose) by her word prompts. This weeks prompts fit in so well with my topic that I’m giving it a go.

Today’s prompt is the word “broken.”

How many of you have grown up thinking you were broken? (*raises hand*) That there was something wrong with you? And as your sensitive nervous systems reacted and life became harder and harder were convinced that it was true – you must be broken?

Dear ones, you are not broken. Did you know that when your nervous system “freaks out” it is doing *exactly what it is designed to do* – protect you? That your reactions are natural consequences to what has happened to you in your life and not some sign that something is wrong with you?

That being said, sometimes our nervous systems get a little stuck in the past – although that is a somewhat negative way to explain something that is a natural, protective move of your nervous system as well, and not a sign that it is broken. Your nervous system is designed to run along tracks of habit most easily. This is to your advantage, as long as the tracks it is running on were not set down by repeated trauma that you are no longer in. (And by “trauma” I don’t just mean the big things.) When we are safe but our body doesn’t quite realize it yet because we are moving along neural pathways set down by trauma, we may feel broken, it is true.

The beauty of brain retraining practices, and learning how to regulate your nervous system, is that it can take these natural ways the the nervous system reacts and use it to our advantage. To come into the present and live it with joy. When this happens, our body relaxes, and has the energy to do what it was designed to do, and we begin to heal.

Beloved, you are not a screw up, messed up, broken. A project that needs to be “fixed.” Your body is only trying to protect you, and it just needs to gently, oh so very gently, be shown the way.


Thank you for joining me on Day 2 of #write28days. Day 1 is here if you missed it.

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 1: Wonderful

#write28days of Nervous System Regulation – Day 1: Wonderful

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. – Psalm 139:13-14

Welcome to Day 1 of #write28days of Nervous System Regulation! Today the prompt is “wonderful” – and I believe that fits so well in describing our nervous systems.

Let me back up a bit since this is Day 1 and describe for you what nervous system regulation really means. A regulated nervous system is not one that is always steady and unfeeling, but one that can return to baseline with timeliness and regularity after a stressor. We do not remain overwhelmed and “on,” nor shut down, dissociated, and “off” for a disordinate amount of time.

One of the biggest helps to nervous system regulation is developing what they call a sense of “felt safety” – a deep knowing, felt by your body, that you are safe, based on both internal body cues and external environmental ones. Therapist Robin Gobbel has an excellent post and podcast that goes deeper on this. It is focused on children but the ideas are globally applicable. As highly sensitive individuals, we often struggle with this sense of felt safety because we are absorbing more input than the average person, and it can become easily overwhelming.

Why wonderful?

Each of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. I took enough biology classes to know that every cell in our bodies is an amazing thing! The way they all work together in systems is nothing short of miraculous. Learning this and knowing it in a deep way helps to create a sense of compassion and wonder for ourselves and others. We begin to hold ourselves in awe instead of listening to that often critical inner voice. This is one step of many in a dance that creates that sense of felt safety in us, the basis of regulating our nervous systems.

Also, thinking about wonderful things is quite helpful in raising your nervous system’s tolerance. This is not “positive thinking” or saying affirmations that might not be true, but taking time every day to imagine things that make us happy. It could be cute animals, our children, a beautiful sunset, a happy day in our lives, or something we just entirely make up. This is not like mindless scrolling of social media or dissociation but a purposeful moment to breathe, calm ourselves, and raise our minds to better things. Directing our minds in such a way is important to teach our subconscious that we are in a place of control and safety, and also to create new pathways that associate a stressful times with a better outcome (the happy feelings produced).

This is just a quick look at what is a huge topic. I hope to write much more on this in the days to come.

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Thank you for joining me for Day 1 of #write28 days! Join me tomorrow, where the word of the day is “broken.” (Hint: YOU’RE NOT) 🙂

Write 28 Days – Nervous System Regulation

Write 28 Days – Nervous System Regulation

Tomorrow, the first day of February (can you believe it?), I will be joining in the #write28days blog challenge being hosted at Anita Ojeda’s. We will be posting every day of February on our topic of choice, guided, if we wish, by Anita’s selected daily prompts.

My main focus for the month will be the basics of nervous system regulation, and also retraining after dysregulation — you know, things like feeling anxious, shutting down, or being triggered. The more I learn and experience it, the more I feel nervous system regulation is an essential topic to learn. These practices help us to not just survive but to thrive as highly sensitive people.

As the month progresses, I will come back to this page to post updated links to each days writing. Feel free to bookmark this page for easy access!

Day 1 – Wonderful

Day 2 – Broken

Day 3 – on February 3rd

All that and a bag of chips

All that and a bag of chips

Late last week my son came home from school sick – turns out it was THE virus. He’s handling it well, but we worry due to the immune suppressive drug he is on. His fever is gone now, and today he woke up and was like, “Can I have a sandwich? Make it filling!” He was finally really hungry after not eating much for days. Yay!

So even though I had little energy and I had just sat down with a hot cup of tea, to kill off whatever germs might be lurking in my own throat, I happily went downstairs and made him a sandwich with all the fixings, cut up an apple, and even found one of those little bags of chips he takes to school and put it on his plate. I was so relieved he was feeling better and that made it easier to ignore my own tiredness and desire for my tea, and serve my son with joy.

I brought it back upstairs to him and realized just how hungry I was at that point. I also remembered my now cold tea. “I spent my last bit energy on my family, as usual,” I thought, a little dejected. “All those stairs. Oh well, I’ll just drink the cold tea and grab something easy.” (And most probably not good for me, I’ll add here.)

*Record Scratch* Wait! Let’s back this truck up. This ^^ above is not the person I want to be, and I am working hard toward right thinking and true self care.

To me right thinking is gearing my thoughts towards ultimate truth, as far as I can see it. Like the truth that I am as worthy of my own care as my son is, even if I’m tired. I was tired when I made HIM his meal, wasn’t I?

There were two main problems with my thinking, as I see it.

First, when I began trying to turn my thoughts around, I initially thought, “OK, stop feeling sorry for yourself” — I got to the “you” and stopped myself. Am I really feeling “sorry for myself”? Or am I just having feelings?? Ladies and gentlemen, it is OK to have emotions, and to feel them. When people tell you to stop feeling sorry for yourself, usually they are just *uncomfortable* with your feelings and want you to move on. I don’t want to be one of those people, to myself or others.

Instead I thought, “What am I actually feeling — what are the individual emotions?” Today I was feeling tired, lonely, a bit frustrated and sad about some things, along with great relief and joy for my son. I realized those feelings were valid considering my situation, and allowed myself to feel them.

Second, I noticed that I always default to “I’m too tired to do anything good for myself, I’ll just do the easy thing.” But when my son said, “I’m hungry!” I immediately had enough energy do complete the task and helped him happily. Am I so worthless that I can’t muster some joy for myself to get me through some lunch making? NO! If it was another family member I would have gone down and made them a nice lunch as well. I am not healthy, and the truth is I deserve at least as good a diet as I make for my loved ones.

So I questioned myself, am I really *too* tired, or am I my usual tired, but also sad and a little lonely, and struggle with self worth? It was the latter, and so I realized I *could* make myself a sandwich, with joy. And I did! A nice one just like my son’s. I also reheated my tea so I could enjoy it.

I didn’t give myself a bag of chips though.

I opted for a cookie. 😉

………………………………………

Are you learning to care for yourself too? What do you find easiest to do for yourself? Hardest? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Feel your feelings

Feel your feelings

For me, the last few years held a lot of illness, but more than a few silver linings.

One of those benefits was learning more about trauma and its effects on the body.

A life changing idea I came across (I believe it was in the Primal Trust community) was that I was most likely not feeling my feelings, I was *thinking* my feelings.

It is important to your physical and mental health to feel your emotions to their resolution, in which they dissipate and you return to baseline. But if you are “thinking your feelings”, this doesn’t happen as easily.

Let me give you an example of what thinking your feelings is vs. feeling your feelings: let’s say a driver cuts you off and you are put in a momentary dangerous situation. Thinking your feelings is how you say, “What an idiot! He almost caused an accident! He could have killed me! I’m so mad! I can’t believe he did that! Bleepin, bleep bleep!” In the past, had any one asked me if I had felt my feelings in that situation, I would have said yes! See I was mad and scared and I said (or thought) so!

But in the same situation, *feeling* your feelings looks like: the guy cuts you off, and you realize your heart is pounding, you are hot, your stomach is tense, your feet hurt, your hands are tight on the steering wheel, maybe you are shaking. You take some moments or longer to experience those feelings to their fullest. Accept and notice the feelings, without judgment.

The difference is, feeling the sensations of your emotions, and sort of “leaning in” to the feeling of them, while quieting the mind of the chatter about them, helps them to be processed and released faster. In my experience, thinking about my feelings tends to rile me up to continue to be hyper aroused, as I have trouble letting go of the negative thoughts I’m having.

While I have not tried using this technique of feeling my feelings in the direct aftermath of a big ticket trauma like a recent death or accident, I have used it often in the day to day stresses of raising a family, dealing with old trauma, and living with chronic illnesses, and it has worked almost every time to bring the feelings of the moment to some kind of resolution. It feels like they “flow through me” and out. My body usually prompts me to yawn or take a deep breath, both signals that my nervous system is processing and shifting into a healthier state. My mind may bring up the stressful event multiple times, but each time I try to get out of my head and into my body and work on dissipating that feeling again and again. This is OK, and to be expected.

As highly sensitive individuals, we often stay up in our own head. We think about everything, and sometimes don’t really have a sense of what is going on in our bodies in terms of emotions, in a real and embodied way. If this is true for you, it might take some practice and some embodiment work to learn how to have a felt sense of your body in any given moment.

Try not to distract yourself from the smaller, handleable stresses, and feel those feelings. As your body learns to do this, you will be one step closer to being able to deal with the bigger things.

The usual disclaimer: This is not professional advice. If you find the actions I described too overwhelming please do not do them without medical/professional counseling advice.

Photo by Jason Tran on Unsplash

I’m small and it’s OK

I’m small and it’s OK

The new year is here and as usual, I have big ideas.

Grow my blog! Lose all the weight!  Be the best wife, mother and homeschooler EVERRRRR!

Ahem.

After almost a half century of life, I also know myself.  The first week of January I will be all gung ho, spend all the money, do all the things…and I will crash and burn before Martin Luther King Day rolls around.  I will, very quickly, come face to face with the fact that I am small and I need God.

Looks like I’m not alone.

From Emily Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday (referral)

(Jesus) constantly turned to his Father in everything refusing to hold his own glory, walking as the most dependent man who ever lived.  And now the Spirit of the most dependent man who ever lived has made his home in us.

If it’s good for Jesus, it’s good for me.

There are so many ways our smallness shows up in mothering and homeschooling, especially when you are introverted and sensitive. Heck, just the sheer amount of talking at me here on a daily basis is enough to make me cry!

I think many of us were taught in various ways, mistakenly, how big we are. How we were expected to fix others, to make them happy.  Unfortunately, that never really worked, did it?  We were told we had God’s job and it was impossible for little us, although we tried. We were shamed for being small, and I know I still carry that inside me like a lump of hot coal.

Instead of forgetting or running from my own smallness, what if I chose instead to look it in the face, to settle down into the place where I am, to notice what is happening around me on my ordinary days? What if these small moments are the very portal into experiencing the kingdom of God? I believe they are — and if we miss them, we miss everything. We run right by the kingdom’s doors, and no matter where we go, we have missed the door that leads us home.

I’m not saying I, or you, shouldn’t have goals and dream dreams. I think they are important. But let’s embrace our own smallness, our own small moments:

…reading to your insatiable toddler (extra points for the same story over and over), feeling your heart swell to the vision of your child on stage for the first time, explaining long division, explaining long division again, spill wiping, laundry doing, staying up late listening when your body is screaming for your bed, burning dinner, and laughing to family jokes over take-out.

This is it. This is the kingdom of God. Right here in your midst.

I’m slowly coming to grips with my own smallness. I’m small, and it’s OK. In fact, it’s beautiful.


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