Our ability to adapt in the face of uncertainty, stress, and adversity. Being flexible and durable when we are being stretched and compressed. Rising to the challenge with an open mind and open heart. The path through pain that gives us the strength to have boundaries, courage, and hope. Our grounding force during these ever-changing times.
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” ~ Maya Angelou
Nervous System Regulation, Vagal Tone, and Resilience:
The ongoing nature of the pandemic has prompted us to highlight the need for regulating our nervous system, and we do this in specific ways. When we regulate our nervous system, we strengthen vagal tone and develop the following pathways of resilience: confidence, competence, connection, emotional regulation, coping, hope.
Here are three mind-body practices to strengthen resilience:
Feel your feet on the ground; feel your seat in the chair; connect with your breath.
Embodiment is the process of finding our way back into our bodies. It is a natural part of trauma and stress to disconnect from our mind and body. This only brings on more stress and anxiety, given we aren’t present for ourselves. Learning ways to feel embodied is essential on our healing path.
Body first, mind second:
As neuroscientist and author Dan Siegel says, “We flip our lid when our nervous system is triggered.” When this happens, we don’t have access to thinking rationally or processing through things in a calm, logical way.
Thankfully, the solution is rather simple, maybe not easy in the moment, but with practice, you develop strength and resiliency to “unflip” your lid and get control of your mind again. You do this first by calming your body and regulating your nervous system.
Solution: mindfulness and grounding
Breathe and notice your abdomen rise on your inhale and gently fall on your exhale.
Slowing move from one sensory experience to the next. Notice the sounds you hear, the feeling of the surface beneath you, what you see, what you smell, and what you taste.
Be a safe container to hold yourself and all that you are feeling: practice grounding and soothing daily.
2. Emotional Regulation—Complete the Stress Cycle
When we connect with our body, we will likely feel states of contraction or pent-up emotions. When we experience high stress and trauma, we feel disconnected, overwhelmed, and that energy gets stuck in the body. It then causes us to feel fatigued, drained, and on alert.
A feature of stress recovery is completing the cycle of stress that was left incomplete at the time of the trauma and stress. The nervous system is constantly seeking to feel safe and attempting to bring us into homeostasis. Unresolved stress and trauma do not allow us to regulate. Most of this happens at subconscious levels unless we consciously pay attention. When we tune into our body and notice what we are feeling, we have an opportunity to release this stuck, pent-up energy. This is a powerful opportunity to develop resilience.
“Grief and resilience live together.” ~ Michelle Obama
Solution: somatic release
Turn your attention inside and connect with your body. Move your emotional energy by focusing on the area of your body currently holding your emotions. Sink your awareness into this area. You may notice sensations such as warmth, pressure, tingling, heaviness, or tension in one or more areas.
Do your best to stay out of your head, thoughts, or narrative of why you feel these sensations and just focus on your body sensations. Breathe consciously and deeply in and out of this area. On your exhale, consciously focus on softening, moving, or releasing the sensation.
Take 5 to 10 deep breaths or until you feel a sense of relief. It may take some patience, but with practice, you will be able to experience a greater body-mind connection.
3. Connection and Co-Regulation
Connection is co-regulation to the nervous system. Co-regulation is the path by which we feel soothed and safe when we are connected to others. We need each other to survive and thrive.
In fact, according to Polyvagal Theory, Stephen Porges notes that our first line of defense is social connection. We use engagement, eye contact, vocal expressions, posture, tone, and touch to help soothe our stress response. If we are able to connect socially, we greatly mitigate the degree of stress we endure.
In these times, physical distancing has the upside of collective health and the downside of feeling disconnected. Our nervous systems are struggling greatly with a lack of co-regulation. We need to find ways to attune to each other—to connect, play, and engage with each other.
Although it is not the same as in-person contact, studies show video chats are highly beneficial to fulfilling the nervous system’s need for co-regulation and connection.
Solution: co-regulation video chats
Plan weekly chats with friends and family. Join a support group, game night, meditation class, or event for your favorite hobby.
It seems everything under the sun that used to be available in person is being made available to some degree online. It may not be the same, but it will be a much-needed “second best” to your nervous system’s ability to coregulate.