Part Two, in case you missed it..
10 Steps To Recalibrating Your Nervous System
1. Befriend your nervous system
When we understand how our nervous systems work, we can begin to work with them. We can sense what is happening, identify with it and give it a name. Once we understand what’s going on, we can have compassion for how we’re feeling and responding – furthermore, we can have compassion for others who are also working through it. Set aside some time to explore the three states – I found it helpful to come up with an image, feeling, sound, song, music, scent and name for each state.
For me it looks like this:
- Ventral vagal parasympathetic nervous system = a sunny meadow
- Sympathetic nervous system/fight or flight = a dark forest
- Dorsal vagal/freeze state = a fog.
2. Slow down and feel
Slow down, pause, savour, linger, take a breath, feel your heartbeat. Listen in to what your thoughts are saying, what your body is telling you. Find the space in between, discover a different response. Find solitude even if it’s only for a brief moment, just to give yourself some time and honour what you are feeling.
Create a quiet ‘pause and reflect’ space, whether it’s at work or at home (or both!) – a comfy floor cushion, a chair near a window, a space for an altar with a candle, incense, or something else that taps into your senses. Clear the space for yourself with a smudging stick or room clearing spray. Keep items that help you ground down and feel safe – whether it’s a special piece of jewellery, a blanket, a favourite crystal. Keep a journal to allow your thoughts to come up as uninterrupted as possible and stop bouncing around in your brain. Meditate and breathe deep into the belly, and as you breathe out, sigh to release all the pent up energy that comes with an over-activated nervous system.
3. Validate your feelings with compassion, love and kindness
Whatever we’re feeling, it’s important that we validate those feelings! All our feelings matter – they’re coming up for a reason. Slowing down or hitting pause for a moment can feel like a real threat, especially if your identity is wrapped up in being busy. Acknowledging and validating feelings can appear like a threat when we find ourselves zoning out with Netflix, scrolling, gaming, drugs, alcohol and eating to distract ourselves.
Our inner protectors or ‘sub personalities’ will become louder here, trying to keep us in the safety of the known. If you tune in, you’ll hear these personalities saying things like:
- Don’t do that, that’s bad/silly/stupid
- If you rest, you’ll fail
- You’re hopeless!
- Why is this happening to me?
- It’s all your fault
- It’s all their
These sub personalities are developed in childhood with the purpose of helping us survive and be accepted. They protect us by getting us to live small or safe versions of ourselves. They rise out of trauma and continue to play out the trauma every time we experience something similar. How can we tell if these old stories from past traumas are still playing out in the present day?
- Every time you think back on a stressful memory you still don’t feel at peace with it
- You have unwanted limited or negative beliefs about yourself and life in general, i.e. “life is a struggle”, “my parents worked hard and never had any money so I’ll never be financially secure”, “it’s too hard to change, this is just how I am”.
- You keep hitting roadblocks in life and you don’t know why.
Before we try to come up with the “solution”, it’s important to first validate, validate, validate. Creating solutions from a place of dysregulation isn’t likely to serve your highest good. On that note, be wary of taking advice or solutions from others who are also not regulated, as they are likely projecting their own trauma, limiting beliefs and fears onto you. Approach your feelings, triggers, traumas, limiting beliefs and blocks with kindness first always. When you feel a trigger coming up, remember this quote:
“Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of that is the beginning of wisdom” - Theodore Rubin.
Triggers, fears, insecurities – they have a natural antidote that we all have the capacity for – love. When a trigger comes up we have two choices – to move forward in fear or to move forward with love AND fear. So let go of the words ‘but’ and embrace the word ‘and’.
4. Protect your energy
Once you start to tap into what is really going on in your body and in your thoughts, you will begin to feel what drains your energy, what your body is saying “hell yes” or “hell no” to. This makes it easier to begin the practice of guarding your energy, your precious resource. The result of saying no to things you don’t have the energy for, or withdrawing your time and presence from situations that are draining (at least until you do have the energy for them) is that you will no longer feel so drained, stressed or frightened. This is part of what it means to ‘fill your cup’.
Remember to protect your energy when:
- You’ve had a long day
- you’re going through a rough patch
- you’re pre-menstrual
- you aren’t read to hear feedback.
And be regal with your routines:
- Honour your time
- create waking/morning, night time/ sleep rituals within each day so that you can begin to recalibrate in your own time, in your own way.
Repeat each day – this is how you begin to rewire your brain and your nervous system into a new way of being.
5. Master the basics of nourishing and replenishing
The counterbalance to fight and flight is rest and digest. The saying “you are what you eat” is true to a degree, but really you are what you actually digest. If you’re regularly eating while in a fight and flight state, it’s most likely you’re not digesting food well. If this is the case, while working to move into rest and digest, use digestive bitters to support the breakdown of foods for better nutrient absorption. Take your time while eating, breathe deeply and chew your food slowly until it becomes liquid. Remember to take your time and avoid eating on the run.
6. Gut microbiome
Chronic stress has been proven to alter the gut microbiome, leading to issues from lowered immunity, increased allergies, even depression and anxiety. To care for the digestive system and eat whole foods that support beneficial gut bacteria is an important way to recalibrate the nervous system that can be easily overlooked.
The microbiome is part of an axis with the gut and the brain which encompasses communication pathways that can influence the brain – including mood and behaviour. So, ensuring the gut microbiome is looked after will contribute to the long-term health of the nervous system.1
They say that in the jungle the lion sleeps tonight. Perhaps the lion in question has a great nervous system and isn’t worried about the dangers that lurk around ever corner! But for the rest of us living in concrete jungles, worrying about work, family, relationships, finances and so on, sleep can become another area of struggle for the nervous system. Even at the end of the day, fear, anxiety and rumination can keep the stress response activated and maintain the long-lasting and potentially harmful flow of stress hormones. In contrast to zebras and gazelles, humans tend to anticipate stressful events and to react on the basis of fear alone.
8. Immerse in nature
We can find safety in the world around us by immersing ourselves in nature as a priority. Many of us will notice that a day spent out in nature or taking a scenic walk makes us feel calmer and more grounded thanks to the fresh, clean air, sunshine and natural light, greenery, being surrounded by the elements and moving our bodies. Research also shows what many of us inherently know – time in nature improves mood, self-esteem and even reduces blood pressure. Walking in a natural environment actually alters the autonomic nervous system control and significantly lowers heart rate variability – a measure that is specifically used to monitor parasympathetic nervous system activity.2
9. Savour, enjoy, count your blessings and celebrate the good stuff
Savour, linger, pause, notice, appreciate and count your blessings. Work on maintaining conscious awareness of the moment instead of moving onto the next thing. It can be difficult to start with, but it’s like a muscle that, flexed often enough, becomes stronger.
We can change our perception of events – setbacks can be viewed as opportunities, frustrations as challenges, and insults as unworthy of our attention. Counting your blessings can often put hardships back into perspective.
10. Do the deeper work and prepare
This article won’t tell you how to do the deeper work and get to the crux of whatever may be going on for you. I am, however, here to remind you that you have the power to self heal, to illuminate the pathway on the journey to wholeness. I can show you how to regulate your nervous system, honour your time and care for your mind and body – so that you can go much deeper into the work.
The deeper work is done with a guide – this could be a psychologist, a counsellor, a meditation teacher, someone who is trauma and fear informed and working in the field of healing deep wounding and breaking unhealthy, repetitive patterns.
The deep work encompasses releasing all the untruths, false identities, and old stories and discovering and becoming who you were born to be.
The most powerful person in the room can see the whole picture, the beginning, the end and everything in between. They are curious and brave, they gather information. They don’t react symptomatically and they aren’t surprised when they get sick.
The most powerful person in the room is the one who is the most relaxed, who can pause, discern, remain curious, can reconsider, can go deeper, is courageous and brave-hearted. They have met their ego and their soul and have made peace with who they really are.
- Fulling, C., Dinan, T.G., Cryan, J.F. (2019). Gut microbe to brain signalling: what happens in vagus. Neuron, 101(6):998-1002.
- Gladwell, V.F., Brown, D.K., Barton, J.L., Tarvainen, M.P., Kuoppa, P., et al. (2012). The effects of views of nature on autonomic control. Eur J Appl Physiol, 112(9):3379-86.