Sometimes I feel like I sound like a broken record. ;) But it's because there are some key foundational things that we could all benefit from knowing and most public schools don't teach them. Things we could all use some knowledge on in order to empower ourselves and take care of our own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
One of these things is two of the ways our nervous system responds to life, experiences, food, interactions, etc. I'm definitely going to be simplifying this. I'm not a physiologist, or doctor, etc. I'm a human sharing about being human, with you humans. :)
Fight or flight. The nervous system's response to a threat, to danger. Breathing, blood flow, heart rate, everything speeds up in order to protect the vital organs, in order to keep us alive, in order to survive. Think running away from a saber-tooth tiger. But we've evolved since then, we don't often encounter saber-tooth tigers in our world (thankfully). So today some things that can trigger fight or flight are stress at work, a riff in a relationship, natural disasters, financial problems, illness, illness of a loved one, etc etc. The thing is when you run away from a saber-tooth tiger, you're going to relax and take a deep breath when you know you've made it, that you're safe from the threat (the tiger).
However the issues we're dealing with now continue, compound on one another, occur over a long period of time, are reactivated when reminded of, triggered, etc. And so many of us are in fight or flight mode for an extended period of time. This intelligent response of the body is meant to be short-term, move beyond the threat, and then move the nervous system back into rest and digest in order to recover from the output and the strain of fight or flight and anything else that the body needs healing from. Do you see where I'm heading with this?
Rest and Digest. The sweet spot. Where we slow down. The body recovers and restores from stress (fight/flight). Where we want the nervous system to be in order to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And literally digest. When we're in fight or flight, blood and energy flow move away from the digestive organs. Digesting food is the last thing on the list when you're trying just to survive.
There's so much goodness here in the rest and digest response. So much ability and capability for healing and to feel good. And it's naturally built into the body. Amazing! There could be a whole other post on just this response. For now think of the last time you really took a deep breath and felt like you were in the moment. When your mind didn't rush to the next thing you should be doing, and you allowed yourself to just be still. In that moment, you may have even heard some stomach gurgles as your body came into rest and digest. You may have felt like you could breathe deeper or longer. You may have felt like all was right with the world. This is deeply restorative and nourishing for our minds, bodies, and souls. <3
So the problem becomes when we're living stressful lives or re-living trauma on the daily, our systems don't have the chance to reboot, restore, recharge, rebalance. We're perpetually in fight or flight. We're literally burning both ends of the candle. And then we wonder why we can't sleep, can't digest food, can't relax, can't be present, can't feel good. Because your body thinks it's in danger and is putting energy into survival instead of these things, instead of thriving.
So what do we do? We start to notice where our bodies are on the scale of fight/flight and rest/digest. And if we're in a space where we can shift down into rest and digest, we breathe. Breathe deeply. Soften the belly. Let it fill and expand on the inhale. Let it empty out on the exhale. Slowly count to 4 on the inhale, and then 5 or 6 on the exhale. Soft belly, slower breath, longer exhale, all lead to rest and digest. Start with one of these, you don't have to do them all at the same time.
Give yourself time to rest. Batteries need to recharge at some point, and so do you. Rest is subjective. And can be a 5 second break from the computer, close your eyes, take a deep breath. It can be spending all day in the hammock reading a book. It can be everything in between and even deeper opportunities for rest if you have that ability. You deserve it.
Move your body. Sleep and rest always come easier after you move some. Walk, dance, do yoga, bike, hike. Also, nature elevates all these activities and your body's ability to come into rest and digest afterwards. Movement and nature are powerful healers.
And most of all know that you are worthy of rest and that you don't have to push, grind, and hustle all the time in order to be good enough, worthy, or deserving of everything you desire and more. It's true. Read that again. ;)
PS. Both of these nervous system responses are beneficial! It all depends on the context.
PPS. We're often not fully in one or another of the responses but somewhere in between. Now you have the awareness to notice within yourself and shift if it you choose, and your body and the context allows. <3
Natalie loves life, people, animals, plants, and trees. She believes in the flow of life and approaches each day with gratitude.