This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Please Pass the Calm.
The main software that runs your stress or relaxation response is the autonomic nervous system.
Do you remember the statistics I shared earlier that 70 to 90% of all doctor’s visits are related to conditions caused by stress? The image below might be an illustration of the state of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in 70 to 90% of us.
The figure weighing down the scale in the foreground might represent the chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Some days feel like this little guy is jumping up and down on his side of the scale!
The other figure trying to get a foothold might represent the parasympathetic system trying to bring the autonomic nervous system into balance.
The truth is – the autonomic nervous system is never in balance!
It’s like standing on one foot, without holding on to anything for stability, and trying to stand completely still and in balance. It just doesn’t happen in most people!
There is always a little bit of movement that constantly adjusts the stability of your body as you stand on one foot.
Try it and notice what happens. If you want to have even more fun with this, try standing on the other foot. You might notice that each foot has a different level of stability.
It’s the same thing in the dance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Even though it may never be in balance, it can be in harmony.
Events happen all day long that can either stimulate the release of hormones to raise our alertness or hormones to create relaxation.
Imagine this scenario:
You wake up after a decent night’s sleep and start getting ready for work. You wake up the kids to get them moving to get ready for school and go into the kitchen to get breakfast ready.
Systems are more or less in harmony.
As you walk into the kitchen you see that the dishwasher leaked all over the kitchen floor during the night.
Sympathetic nervous system spikes to give you energy to clean up the mess quickly, and then call or leave a message for a repair company and rush to get breakfast for everyone.
Just barely getting the kids ready and out the door to go to work, the kids are dropped off and you are still irritated and the traffic is making it worse. The little guy starts jumping up and down on his side of the scale.
You quickly set your playlist for your favorite relaxing music, your breathing and heartbeat starts to calm down and the irritation level starts to drop. You get to work ready to make arrangements for the repair.
The parasympathetic nervous system is able to get both feet on the other side of the scale and brings it into some balance – at least for the moment.
On the other hand, if you start going over and over the morning’s events in your mind, and then tell the story to everyone you see at work, this just keeps the sympathetic nervous system jumping up and down on the scale and knocks the other guy completely off the scale.
Are you beginning to see how the harmony works?
This is our daily dance with the autonomic nervous system.
You have two choices to help you with this dance:
- You can either be aware of it and do your best in managing the dance
- Or let it run on an unconscious level and be at the mercy of the software.
This book is filled with information and practices to help you manage the dance with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems with grace.
To get you started right away, here are some practical tips that have helped me.
3 quick tips for calming your nervous system
If you feel you have taken on some ‘Second Hand Stress’ or are looking for ways to release some that is actually yours, here are a few tips to help:
- Release excess emotional energy. CONSCIOUSLY use the natural voice of the body. We do this all the time when we sigh or groan. These sounds stimulate the release of hormones that reduce stress and help the body heal and manage pain.
I recommend that you do a vocalized sigh. Start around the middle of your vocal range and let the sound of your voice drop into the low range as you sigh. Notice your shoulders drop and the body relax.
We will be revisiting this practice later in the book.
- This one is a little goofy, but works really well. Imagine you have a toilet flush lever by your ear. Push on the lever and imagine the swirling water flushing anything that isn’t yours easily and gently out of your body.
Swirling water going down the drain is a vortex. Like a tornado. A vortex is a powerful image to use for clearing excess emotional energy.
If you decide to use this I recommend that you create intention that any energy that is not yours be released down the drain and immediately dissolved harmlessly.
- I also recommend that you become really familiar with your own energy – I call it frequency – so that you can determine right away if you have taken on any energy that doesn’t feel like yours.
Your own energy is strong after a treatment like a massage, or reiki or any other modality that leaves you feeling balanced and calm.
Remember this feeling and the strength you feel. This is your energy. Know what it feels like when it is strong.
When you have a strong foundation and memory of your own energy you will more easily tune back into it to bring strength and calm.
unprecedented times and an opportunity
We live in unprecedented times of change and chaos. This has created a great deal of uncertainty, fear and concern in many people.
As of the time of this writing, there has been good reason for worry and concern in Calgary where I live. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs over the past three years.
The impact of this is far-reaching, for those who have lost their job, for their families and for those businesses who serve them.
It also impacts those people who still have their jobs, with an increased workload and wondering if they will be included in the next wave of layoffs.
All of this has created an epidemic of negative mindset. And an enormous number of people who are more focused on the inner chatter of the mind than on the world around them.
Like the woman who almost drove her car into mine that I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.
Stress (including the incessant chatter) hijacks the thinking part of your brain. And leaves it at the mercy of the emotional brain and unconscious behavior.
It is absolutely essential to have a collection of tools and techniques that can bring you back to the present moment and reconnect you to the calm and inner peace at your core.
These unprecedented times also offer us a great opportunity.
As we find ways to be present to the calm and inner peace within, we open our hearts to resilience and compassion.
Compassion grounded in inner peace will transform our world.