Lately, there has been a theme that has been coming up a lot with clients.. And that is the magic of PREVENTION-especially when it comes to regulating your nervous system.
If Michael Jordan only shot basketballs during games, he wouldn’t be very successful, right? The same can be said for practicing nervous system regulation skills ONLY when we are stressed, triggered, or activated.
If we are only trying to cool and center ourselves when we are stressed or activated, it’s kinda like Michael Jordan ONLY shooting basketballs during games. What if you practiced some of those nervous system regulation skills when the waters are calm?
When it comes to healing our nervous systems and recovering from trauma, preventative “medicine” is key.
Practicing when you are NOT stressed or activated will help strengthen the neurological connections in your brain just like shooting basketballs.
You can almost think of your nervous system as a muscle – you have to get some “reps” in- in order to widen your window of tolerance. One of the most important aspects of nervous system regulation is attending to your vagus nerve. The nerve that runs from your brainstem to your gut.
I actually just recently learned a new term called “vagal tone,” like toning a muscle, but you are toning your vagus nerve and this cannot be done ONLY when the vagus nerve is stressed.
So what do nervous system regulation skills actually look (and feel) like?
Well.. let’s start with what they are NOT:
- They are NOT self-affirmationing yourself to death (because your vagus nerve does NOT connect to your frontal lobes so just repeating positive thoughts over and over isn’t very effective)
- They are NOT convincing yourself to think positive or “look on the bright side.”
- They are NOT gaslighting yourself by telling yourself to “just get over it” or “stop letting things bother you so much.”
- They are NOT “just being grateful for what you have.”
Nervous system regulation skills ARE:
- Moving your body in a way that feels supportive.
- Acknowledging difficult and uncomfortable emotions and attuning to them as if you were the most loving, nurturing grandma figure on the planet.
- Deep breathing.
- Polyvagal reset exercises (just do a quick google search and find one the you feel a shift with).
- Identifying values that inspire you AND practicing feeling what those feel like in your BODY.
Here is a video of me teaching a nervous system skill called “PACE”, if you’d like to try it:-)
Whatever your nervous system regulation skill of choice is (it really can be ANYTHING – being in nature, yoga, shaking your body out, opening and closing your jaw, splashing cold water on your face, wearing a lavender pouch in your bra) – whatever it is – the idea is that you actually feel a shift in your BODY.
You may feel a release in your gut or just a felt sense of having more spaciousness in your system.
The bigger invitation here is to practice these when your nervous system is NOT activated. Practice these when the waters are calm as this will help the neurological connections in your brain become stronger. That way, when your ex does send that annoying email or the PTA pisses you off yet again with ridiculous school politics (no personal experience implied here), you actually have a chance at accessing these skills.
So.. get what I call.. “Little sips of self-care” throughout your day. “Little snack-size bites” of nourishment. What does 1 minute of nervous system regulation look like for you? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? An hour? A whole day? (“WHAT? A WHOLE DAY OF TAKING CARE OF MYSELF? I COULDN’T POSSIBLY!” – YES YOU CAN!)