I hope that this finds you well, having enjoyed some rest over the last week. Though, if you’re like me, it has been anything but restful, and I look around me at the post-holiday clean-up that awaits with some dismay. Another year of pandemic Christmas takes its toll.
It seems crazy that we are still trying to find our way back to normalcy after almost two years. In truth, I wonder if perhaps we may have, in fact, landed at a new plateau. Our central nervous systems are telling us that we can no longer afford to stay at this high level of continuous activation. Our bodies are not designed to handle a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. On top of it all, CNS dysregulation for an extended period has been linked to a myriad of health concerns, both physical and psychological.
Of course we need that burst of energy when we have to escape the charging lion and reach safety before recalibrating, allowing the system to settle back down to pre-crisis levels. But we’ve been activated and engaged for the past two years just trying to pick up groceries, navigate child care, or to figure out how to maintain safe connections with those we love.
We are all prone to decision fatigue, a sense of hopelessness, tension in our relationships, and a disruption to our sense of purpose. Yet, we can’t afford to think of this in black and white terms. We cannot just pretend that the threat has passed. We do need to remain vigilant. The crisis is neither over, nor can we afford to stay in a perpetual state of hyper vigilance.
So as the pandemic does not have a clear expiration date, how can we help our central nervous system disengage from “The End is Nigh” setting and find its way back to some sense of order, purpose, and stability?
How do we reconcile the design of the central nervous system to react to threat, with the psychological need to give the body a break and experience some extended periods of low level threat?
Well, here’s the hard part… (as if the rest has been a walk in the park). While our bodies respond to threat immediately, dumping stress hormones into our systems to help us see better, run faster, pump blood and breathe more efficiently, the de-escalation takes a lot longer.
Think of it as a switch that gets suddenly flipped on to get us to safety, and a dial that is slowly turned down in order to get back to our baseline. You can see how easy it is to get reactivated and back up to DefCon 1 in the process of disengagement.
My not-so-secret weapon these past months has been community. Finding others with whom you can share this experience will help keep you from either becoming a doomsayer, or ignoring a potential real threat. Talking and listening to how others are managing, and sharing the burden of this time, can help ease our sense of isolation and pessimism. Even if we are all feeling helpless together, our sense of connection offers us some perceived resilience.
As social creatures, our central nervous systems are responsive to one another. If you find yourself anxious or afraid, reach out to a friend who is feeling grounded. Even if you don’t discuss your fear directly, a process of co-regulation occurs, allowing you to “borrow” a bit of their calm and stability. Yes, even online.
For the coming year at CML, we will be working to increase space for community through our sitting groups and study groups, as well as online workshops and retreats to help you stay connected, grounded, and healthy. Please take a moment to help your depleted central nervous system out by identifying a few other activities you can engage in to help you co-regulate, and in turn help others to ease their overwrought nervous systems.
We can all use the extra assist right now.
Blessings for healing in 2022,