Being Human Doesn't Have to Be Hard: A Tool to Balance Your Nervous System
I've recently returned from a majestic adventure in Bali, Indonesia! My husband, Matt, and I, and our two kids, Lucy and Henry, spent three weeks there; sipping exotic fruit smoothies, strolling through emerald green rice fields, practicing yoga in outdoor bamboo pavilions and soaking up the pleasures of tropical paradise. What a feast for the senses!
But the thing that I enjoyed the most, was being with the Balinese people.
They are so kind and sweet. Their smiles are bright, and I felt truly welcomed by them to the beautiful island that they call home. There is a natural sense of ease and happiness in the Balinese community that is palpable. I felt it as a slowing down, a gradual unwinding, and letting go, as we settled in to our journey there.
I noticed that making eye contact felt gentle and natural, and that conversations happen a little more slowly. Words come along with quiet pauses in between, so no one feels in a rush. You get a chance to feel the human connection happening.
And people walk slower too. I settled right into this and enjoyed it as a way to easily orient to my surrounding–to get out of my head and into the here and now–and to notice people, to smile, and say hello.
I got the sense that for the Balinese, a more tranquil lifestyle comes naturally. It's a way they've been living for thousands of years. I also had the sense though, that it came naturally to me, too! Yay!
It felt just right to slow down, to connect with people, to savor the moment.
In our Western, industrialized culture, things feel more fast paced and hectic. We are so often in a rush, juggling the many responsibilities of work, kids, relationships, errands and tasks–that we can feel isolated and miss opportunities for peace, connection and enjoyment. We are taught that "time is money" and we tend to lead lives with just so much on our plates. There is little room for rest and rejuvenation, and our physical and mental-emotional health can really suffer.
So in a hectic world, how can we find the sense of ease and tranquility that I so resonated with in Bali? How do we shift out of "fight or flight" and into a healthy, happy experience, one where our adrenals and nervous system are in balance–energy is abundant, and there is comfort in the body and mind? Believe it or not, this is possible!
It can start with this simple technique. It's called:
Noticing moments of completion.
It's pretty easy, and doesn't take a lot of time. Just notice when you are done with something. It might be a batch of emails you've gotten through. It might be a challenging phone conversation for work. It might be running an errand. Let's go with that one as our example.
Maybe you feel a bit stressed because it's a busy day and traffic is bad. But let's say you go and accomplish the errand. You get to the store just before it closes, buy what you need and then–successful–you come back to your car. Once you're in your car, you can take a moment. Say to yourself, "Okay, I'm done with that now." Then, just notice how that feels–especially by tuning into your body. What is the felt sense of being done with that thing?
Most likely, as you tune into how your body feels and take a moment to really notice being done with your task, you'll feel some kind of natural release, or deactivation. Maybe it's a deep inhale and exhale, that just naturally happens. Maybe you notice your shoulders relax a bit. Maybe your body seems to want to soften back in your chair some more. Maybe it's a pleasant, calm feeling that you notice all over. These are all signs that your nervous system is coming out of an activating, more stressed, "fight or flight" mode, and into one of "rest and digest," relaxation and repair.
Of course, running one little errand is not the most stressful thing in the world...
But if you miss the feeling of completion at the end of it and the natural deactivation and relaxation that goes along with that, then your nervous system stays in that more activated mode.
And then–lo and behold–you are off to the next task in your day!
Let's say it's running to the office, just in time for an intense meeting–something you're used to but never the less, a bit stressful–and now your nervous system gets a bit more activated. And let's say you don't notice the moment of completion and relaxation when that meeting is over. Then you're on to the next thing that you have to do after that. Maybe you pick up your kid from school and find out he acted out that day. More stress, more activation. Then home to throw some dinner together, help your daughter with her homework and discuss scheduling, or finances, with your spouse. More stress. More activation.
None of these things, in and of themselves, is innately overwhelming. The feeling of overwhelm happens when one stressor piles on top of another, and then another, throughout the day.
If we forget to take a moment to notice when we are done doing something, then the activation in our nervous system ramps up and up and up. By the end of the day we are perched precariously high up on a mountain of stress.
But as the old saying goes...
What goes up must come down!
The human body is a balancing act and is rooted in the process of homeostasis, which means exactly that–balance, so whenever there is activation of stress in the system, there will also be a natural deactivation of that stress.
It's just the way we are built and that deactivation will happen.
It's going to be there one way or the other, but if you don't allow for smaller deactivations throughout the day (by noticing moments of completion) then your stress level rises higher and higher and by the end of the day your nervous system will force some kind of coming down.
This might come in the form of a major energy crash and a feeling of total exhaustion in the afternoon. It might be that the body says, "no more of this, I must rest" and so you come down with a migraine, or a bad cold and have to take to your bed. It might show up as brain fog or memory issues because your nervous system and brain are down regulating as part of that deactivation cycle, and therefor not working as well for you. Similarly, the deactivation and down regulating can happen in the digestive system and symptoms there, especially constipation, can occur. Or it might show up as a fight with your spouse, and the tears and exhaustion that come with that, as a way of finally letting down and letting go.
These are not fun things, but interestingly, they are actually part of your body's wisdom, part of how it comes down from heightened stress states and finds balance–albeit, an uncomfortable, symptomatic sort of balance.
But there's a better way, an easier way!
By making time for noticing moments of completion you can avoid the overwhelming stress of a busy life.
In fact, you become resilient to that stress in that you maintain a nice steady baseline throughout the day, one that undulates easily from states of higher activation to modes of deactivation and relaxation. You go up and you go down. You go up and you go down. You avoid climbing that stress mountain–and the corresponding crash that happens afterwards–because you allow for smaller deactivations to take place throughout the day, simply by taking a few moments to notice what it feels like to be done with a task.
This tunes you into the natural cycling of your nervous system. Like all things in nature, your nervous system is designed well. When you understand it, you can flow with the ups and downs of life with a sense of ease and adaptability, allowing for a natural sense of happiness to arise–like what the Balinese people inspired in me. My take home message from my grand adventure:
Being human doesn't have to be hard!
If you'd like to learn more about cultivating resilience and well-being, book a free Discovery Session with me. Looking forward to connecting!