Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl
New Year comes with the all the promise usually associated with new beginnings of any kind… with hope and optimism, a determination to change things that are not working in our lives.
At the top of the list of new year resolutions for many is to live a healthier lifestyle… exercise more, eat healthier, give up smoking, drink less, adopt healthy habits, detox etc. Our issue last January focused on ways in which we could do this. It seems unfathomable that it is this time of the year again.
All of these things are not only helpful from a physiological perspective… they are also nourishing for the system and our minds, provided they are done with this intention [of self care and nourishment], as opposed to thinking we are being deprived in some way. It is the ‘detoxing’ of the mind we would like to discuss in this article. We hear a lot about ‘toxic thoughts’, ‘toxic workplaces’, toxic relationships’ and it can be hard to know where to start in ‘detoxing’ these seemingly external forces.
Having spent much of this year on crisis lines, talking to thousands of people suffering with anxiety and depression, the need to slow down our nervous systems seems to be of paramount importance. Our systems are overwhelmed with stimuli, deadlines, work stress, financial stress and even email stress (one of the reasons we only do our magazines every month or two). All of this pressure influences one of the most important predictors of our emotional wellbeing… our relationships, adding to the list.. relationship stress.
As we have discussed many times in the past, our psychological health is inextricably linked with our physiological health. Long term stress, adverse childhood events, trauma, stress, unmet needs all impact our nervous systems and have the propensity to make us physically sick. Adding more physical stress by poor lifestyle choices exacerbates the problem and further depletes a system struggling to cope with an already higher requirement for nutrients. Conversely, many studies have demonstrated that deliberate mindfulness / breathing techniques can positively alter physiological function, for example reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation (through moderating biochemical messengers), reduce anxiety and even, over time, altering the anatomical structure of the brain.
The prescription of drugs to help people cope with ever increasing demands is also of enormous concern. Although it is on the lists of topics we would like to discuss in detail this year, it is worth mentioning now as we live in a society so disempowered to heal ourselves that drugs can be the first option when our systems are often simply in overload. Our society now even turns to methadone, once reserved for heroin addicts, to help people reduce their prescribed anxiolytic medication.
Increasingly we are managing our stress by operating from our primitive brains, concerned with threat and survival. When this part of the brain (nervous system) is dominant, our thinking, rational brains are not. When anxious or experiencing panic, few cognitive resources are available to us, it is purely instinct, a fight/flight or freeze response, or a combination of the two. This results in automatic (but often inappropriate and unhelpful) patterns, thoughts and behaviours being repeated. Often it doesn’t seem to make sense, as it may relate to a body memory the mind may not remember, or a repeated pattern (of stress for example). Therefore, learning to understand our nervous systems and listen to the language of our bodies (interoception) is a critical factor in regulating the nervous system.
Achieving nervous system self regulation is very different to learning management strategies, even though the latter can be useful in some circumstances. Over the past few years I have been training in the principles of Peter Levine’s ‘Somatic Experiencing’ and have been impressed by the profound capacity this method has in the healing of the nervous system. This is another subject which will be described in detail in another article.
In closing our first post for the new year of 2017, whilst trying to stay on topic of new year resolutions and detoxing the mind… we would like to encourage you to slow down and reflect, for example reflect on the past year, find things you are grateful for, acknowledge hardships and lessons learnt. Connect with the feelings and sensations you notice as you think about these things. If you set goals for yourself for 2016, revisit them, what did you achieve? It is rare that we will achieve everything on the list so don’t be too hard on yourself if you didn’t manage all of them.
Consider whether the goals you set for 2016 still relevant/important to you? Think about how your life would be different if you achieved those goals. If they are important, think about smaller steps that will bring you closer to achieving that goal. In every step, take time to connect with the feelings and sensations you notice as you think of these options, with a focus on curiosity and not judgement.
Wishing you all a fulfilling year ahead.
– JenJen Murrant is the co-founder of Health Synergy has been studying and/or practicing as a health professional for 20 years, with qualifications in nutrition, psychotherapy and coaching psychology. Jen’s fundamental nutritional focus is to help people nourish their bodies and brains to support them in achieving their best.