Unprecedented uncertainty seem to be the buzz words of 2020. This has been a roller coaster of a year full of sickness, death, grief, societal unrest, racial injustice, climate catastrophes and constant chaos amongst those running the country. Your nervous system has likely had enough; Because unprecedented uncertainty is not safe through the eyes of your nervous system.
Your nervous system’s #1 job is looking out for #1: You, and keeping you alive. To accomplish this, our system continuously scans our internal and external environments, without our conscious awareness, for threats or signs of danger. This is a process known as neuroception. Based on your system’s appraisal of that constant monitoring, we may experience physical and psychological changes as a survival response. Such responses include classic signs of hypo and hyper arousal. Through our trauma lens we can recognize that all symptoms and reactions to stressors can be understood as the system’s attempt to cope and respond to stressors.
Coping in Today’s World
In today’s world, our systems are constantly picking up on cues of danger, and as such having a response to these appraisals. Racism and societal unrest, constant bickering amongst politicians, a smoke filled sky, a hurricane warning from our local news, seeing people in masks when you go to the store, people standing too close to us, even filling out your ballot…All of these experiences may be perceived by the nervous system as cues of threat and danger to your survival.
So, what do we do when our survival physiology is making a hard time even harder? Regulate, regulate, regulate. While we can recognize our systems are having a normal response to abnormal events, we can use conscious acts of discernment and coping to help increase our odds for resiliency. Think of your nervous system like a runaway train, responding to the constant bombardment of danger cues. But what if that runaway train had an emergency brake and we just forget to pull it sometimes?
Taking time for self-care is intentional self-regulation time. Everyone could benefit from taking more time to intentionally self-regulate. This is essentially how you pull the E brake on that runaway train. Though the train is likely to get out of control again, later today or this week because this year is so intense, we can keep returning to calming and quieting our brains and bodies, leading to more health and wellness.
Calming Our Mind and Body Through Regulation
How you calm and quiet your brain and body, or how your client’s choose to do this, can vary. For what feels soothing to one nervous system may not feel soothing to another. Here are some of my regular go to’s that I personally find helpful, and teach many of my clients.
Meditate, meditate, meditate
- “But it’s hard” is what I often hear, and also what I personally experience when I meditate. Meditation is a practice, not a task to check off the list. Part of the process in meditation is observing your mind, how random and busy it can be sometimes, and coming back to stillness. Meditation is not about silencing the mind or having no thoughts. Those are outlandish expectations. Meditation is about a practice of finding stillness, connecting to your breath, getting grounded and getting present. Some days it’s hard, some days it’s less hard. That is the point of meditation.
Turn off the news and get away from social media
- The news and social media are constant triggers and send relentless cues of danger to your nervous system. Additionally, they have addictive qualities to them. As hard as it is, try to take a break from the news and social media, even if it’s for only a portion of the day. If you can do a larger detox, for example a whole day or a whole weekend, that’s awesome. But even little adjustments and breaks can help.
Connect to something bigger than yourself and this moment.
- Some might call this faith, religion, spirituality, or a higher power. Whatever it is, connecting to your humility, your humanness, and something greater can help keep us going in times of darkness and despair.
Connect with nature
- Whether that’s a hike, sitting in a park, hugging a tree, or strolling down your side streets, seek out nature. Nature is full of reminders for us, about what’s important. Additionally, research shows that connecting with nature benefits the mind, body, and soul.
Remember that this is the present moment, not the forever future. That this too shall end. What we do in these times matters for our future selves, for our families, our friends, our communities, our societies, and the human race.
So keep coping. Keep regulating. Keep practicing with intentionality. This is how we build resilience and navigate the tides of uncertainty.