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I posted this photo on Instagram recently and wondered if any of you, like me and my kitty, are climbing the walls? For me, climbing the walls is another way to say that my body and my mind are feeling the effects of stored stress physiology. It’s as if my body has one foot on the gas pedal (fight or flight) and one foot on the breaks (freeze), and it leaves me feeling both activated and exhausted, electric and burned out. I’m acutely aware how this space and this time are challenging my nervous system in new and profound ways AND giving me the opportunity to heal more deeply.

Given our collective circumstance, it’s not surprising that so many others have shared a similar experience with me. On top of our typical life stressors, we’re navigating life (and parenting) during a pandemic. I’m continually reminded to return to my inner world and what I CAN do when there are so many things out of our control.

Yesterday, after checking in with my body to connect with my “climbing the walls” experience, I went to my journal with some prompts. What I remembered through this process is that I’m needing more of TWO things:

  1. Flow in my nervous system
  2. Structure and accountability

Of course these are things that often come up in my conversations with women. As is often the case, themes emerge and merge in my personal and collective healing work.

SO, as promised in the Instagram post, I’m here to break these two needs down to see what they look like in practice and how they go hand in hand.

But First

In homeopathy we talk about maintaining causes in our lives that may be obstacles to cure. For example, if you’re sick because you live in a moldy home, even homeopathy won’t permanently heal you if you stay immersed in toxic mold. We ideally get out of the moldy home. But we can’t always do that, at least not right away. So, we have to up our healing game until we can. And that healing game will serve us long term when the maintaining cause is long gone.

Our pandemic lifestyle is, in a way, a maintaining cause that is getting in the way of us experiencing much-needed flow in our nervous systems. For now, this is not going to change. So what do we do? We engage our healing practices more and more. This time is calling us in to do our deeper healing work. It’s asking us to take good care of ourselves, and we can do that by nurturing flow in our nervous systems and creating structure and accountability for ourselves.

Nervous System Flow: What it Looks Like in Practice

This is a big topic, so please know that this is a very small glimpse into what many have written entire books about and a snippet of what you can experience in Self-Awareness | The Course. First, watch this video with these main points:

  1. Many of us are stuck in one more “states” in our nervous system, especially right now.
  2. There is no quick fix to permanently resolve stuckness and restore flow (aka a relaxed and alert state of our nervous system).
  3. There ARE things we can do to 1) consciously contain and/or discharge our climbing the wall feelings (in the case of fight/flight activation) or 2) bring a return of energy and connectedness (in the case of freeze/shut down).
  4. Knowing which approach we need and when comes with practice.
  5. Practice makes improvement.

Start Here

Cultivating flow in the nervous system will look different for every BODY in practice. Your practices for containment/release and for reenergizing will likely be different than mine. To begin exploring this and connecting with your own practice, I invite you to get curious:

First make notes about what each state of the nervous system feels like for you. How do YOU uniquely experience each one of these states? Pay special attention to how you experience them in your body. What are the sensations you notice? Where do you notice them? What are the qualities of the sensation (texture, temperature, color, density, smell, sound)?

Then make a list. Brainstorm. In each of the nervous system states consider all the mind, body, heart, and soul- practices that feel supportive (and even those you want to learn but mayn’t yet have experience with) when you’re stuck in one of these states. See the questions below.

Shut down / Freeze

What will bring a gentle return of energy when you’re feeling the sensations of shutting down?

Activation / Fight / Flight

What will help me release and discharge this energy or contain it in a safe way?

Relaxed & Alert (*this is where we want to rest more of the time…not all of the time, but more of the time)

What will support me in staying connected to and deepening this experience?

*Engaging and staying with these practices is where structure and accountability can be helpful.

Structure and Accountability (S & A)

Post-graduate education in both health psychology and health behavior have taught me that lifestyle changes, especially health-related behavior changes, are challenging at best. It takes effort and commitment to shift our patterns, our habits, our wiring. Putting my education into practice with real folks has shown me that all too often we don’t make changes until crisis hits (often in the form of symptoms, illness, etc.), because we can’t always see the connection between our actions and their consequences. Our level of readiness to change tends to be low until something urgent, intense, or personally meaningful motivates us to do so. This is reason number one of many for implementing S & A into your day to day.

I am a person who is intrinsically motivated to engage in healthy behaviors. And I’m also human. I find myself scratching my head some days, wondering how I didn’t take a break to move my body from her frozen position at my desk or how I managed not to drink water throughout the day. I have abandoned a much-needed movement after work or class for a glass of wine, a choice that perpetuates the stuck state of my nervous system, but arises naturally from ignoring my bodies signals all day long. This is reason number two for implementing S & A into your every day: our chronic stored stress and nervous system dysregulation (the climbing the walls experience we talked about above) directly impacts our ability to make conscious choices about our health.

The very thing we’re seeking to shift (our nervous system) may be sabotaging its own process (below the level of our consciousness, of course). Hence, why so many people feel like they’re “failing” in their attempts at resolutions or diets or any number of lifestyle protocols. It’s not that they’re lacking will power. The nervous system needs to get on board AND there needs to be some structure and accountability.

Ideas for Creating Nervous System Flow AND Structure and Accountability

Work with a professional

Coaches, therapists, and many other health professionals have experience working with the nervous system.

  • Work with me: one-on-one coaching or nervous system education, in conjunction with or independent from homeopathy offer both nervous system healing AND the structure and accountability to keep you engaged in your healing practices.
  • Work with a trauma-informed therapist, particularly one who is trained in somatic experiencing or other somatic practices.

Take a class

  • Self-Awareness | The Course begins in and with the body to cultivate embodied self-awareness. This is a great place to start nurturing flow in your system with accountability of a group and the structure of weekly meetings. If you’re interested, e-mail me directly.
  • Go virtual. Yoga, Feldenkrais, pilates, breathwork, meditation. There are endless opportunities for online classes right now that provide both nervous system support and S&A.

Partner up

  • Your individual goals may be different, but your intention is the same: to create structure and accountability that fosters nervous system flow.
  • Set a regular (virtual) meeting time and/or daily text check-ins.
  • Outline your boundaries and create a safe, clear container. Will you offer support without judgment? Empathy? Will you call the other in if they don’t show up?

More ideas

  • If you’re going it on your own, set a timer each day to provide yourself a reminder of your intention to nurture flow in your nervous system.
  • Tell someone your intention at the start of each day and ask them to check in with you about it.
  • Reach out to a grounded, trustworthy, safe person. One of the quickest ways to restore flow in our nervous system is to connect with another regulated soul. Even in the absence of an official partnership, an ‘as needed’ connection can offer both flow and accountability.