I don’t know about you, but this was an especially unique summer for me. From the
fatigue of crossing the finish line of a hairy academic year, and the subsequent
realization that we had been slogging away at the pandemic uncertainty for 15
months, I inherently felt a different quality to my own nervous system, and to that of
my patients. There was a new level of fatigue, languishing, and even some
despondence. And it was not something that is healed by just one solid night of
restorative sleep. This ran deep.
As I spoke to my patients (predominantly parents), I kept hearing the same stories.
People were anxious, fatigued, taking ages to complete simple tasks, short fused,
wired, and more. I am sure you can relate. Our nervous systems were simply
hitting a wall.
As humans we are very lucky to be wired with an internal alarm system. Its
presence warns us of impending danger. It signals when we need to fight, flight, or
freeze. It is in fact genius, and one of the very unique functions allowing us to
survive the ups and downs of life. However, this system is designed for short bursts,
separated by periods of extended rest. It is simply not designed to fire frequently
(let alone almost constantly for a year and a half). Can you imagine your smoke /
home / car alarm sounding constantly? After a certain point, no one would continue
to head its warning, and then it would eventually totally breakdown. What I saw in
myself, and my patients this summer, was a similar teetering on the edge of collapse,
and it was not ok.
Luckily, we can catch things before a full blown unravelling occurs (although it was
dangerously close for many). Enter, nervous system rest, repair, and reset. This is
the necessary break our body needs. Tell me, have you spent some time addressing
your own nervous system since this pandemic began? If so, great work! Keep at it,
it is a process, be gentle with yourself. If no, let me tell you (in no uncertain terms):
Do So Soon! It is a matter of survival, and it can’t wait. Without the nervous
systems full function, we are at real risk. And in my personal and professional
experience, left unattended, our bodies give louder and louder messages that they
need this break, until we can literally no longer ignore them (this often looks like an
injury that forces a slow down, and I have seen lots lately).
You may be wondering: How do I heal my nervous system? Great question! I
believe this is about small, consistent practices, done over the course of time. In a
situation like this, it will not take days or weeks to repair, but more like many
months or longer. I also see it as deeply personal. When coaching my patients on this
type of work, I often provide a laundry list of options to consider. I list ones that are
well known, and have evidence to support their efficacy. I don’t suggest they do
them all, and ultimately, we are each individuals, so choosing for yourself is
important. Nervous system healing practices are things you look forward to, and
that leave you feeling calmer and less stimulated than when you started. Knowing
yourself will help you navigate, and if you don’t know, see below.
This summer, I upped my game on some of my favourite nervous system
rebalancing behaviours, and it is slowly paying off. These include:
Quality time in nature – preferably away from any nearby buildings / cars
(and your device)
Connecting with close friends +/ or family – if possible, in person (safely) is
Mindfulness meditation – even 5-10 minutes is enough