Your nervous system is a powerful tool. It helps you to survive and thrive in your environment. It's like having a built-in computer that operates automatically, without you even thinking about it. And, like a computer, it can be broken—and fixable! But how do you fix it? How do you get your nervous system back on track? The answer is simple: somatic practices.
Photo Credit: Aris Leoven
Flight, Fight or Freeze
Your nervous system responds when you encounter danger. When this happens, your body reacts in three main ways: flight, fight, or freeze. Flight is the body's impulse to run away from a threat. The fight is what we do when we want to attack an enemy or predator head-on. Freeze is when we're too scared to move at all, usually out of fear that any movement will make things worse for us (which it may). While these responses can be helpful in some circumstances—for example, if there's an actual tiger chasing you—they're not always the best option for handling life’s daily stresses.
The Nervous System is developed to protect you.
When you have an experience that might be perceived as dangerous, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode. This happens because the sympathetic nervous system automatically causes the release of certain chemicals: cortisol (which increases blood sugar), adrenaline and noradrenaline (both hormones), and prolactin (a hormone usually released during breastfeeding). All these changes cause rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and constriction of peripheral blood vessels so that your brain receives more oxygenated blood supply; at the same time digestion slows down (you do not want to waste energy on digesting food when there is danger around!).
Stress and Trauma
Stress is a normal part of life. Everyone feels stressed at some point in their lives, and it can even be helpful in small doses. You’re supposed to experience stress when you have things to do, or an important event coming up that you want to prepare for. Stress has even been shown to improve performance on certain tasks if it’s managed properly.
However, when your body is constantly flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), it becomes more difficult for the nervous system to return back to normal balance. Over time this can lead to chronic health problems like depression and anxiety disorders as well as physical conditions such as heart disease and digestive disorders.
The first thing you should do if you feel your nervous system is overwhelmed by stress is take steps towards reducing the number of stressors in your life so that they don't build up any further than they already have been doing so far this year! For example:
If there's something weighing heavily on your mind (like work deadlines), try taking some time off from thinking about those things by spending some time relaxing instead! Somatic movement works best for me but maybe reading a book or watching TV would suit other people better depending on what kind of environment suits them best.*
What does this have to do with me?
The nervous system is the part of your body that sends and receives messages. If your nervous system is in flight, it can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. Your nervous system plays an important role in regulating all of your body's functions: heart rate, blood pressure, and even the way your muscles move. Your nervous system also controls how you feel emotionally—whether you're calm or agitated—as well as when it's time to put on the brakes (stop). It's easy to understand why it's important for our bodies and brains to be able to think clearly. The good news is that there are ways we can improve our emotional well-being by using our sensorimotor systems better!
Your nervous system is a powerful tool.
Your nervous system is a powerful tool. It's always working, scanning the environment for threats and sending you messages via your autonomic response. Your nervous system has a time delay when it's put in danger: if you're threatened by something on the ground, your body will respond before you realize what's happening. It’s an adaptive response that helped our ancestors survive; however, it can cause us trouble now because we aren't always aware of what triggers these reactions in our bodies.
Somatic Movement can help regulate the nervous system, bring you back into your body, and allow you to feel safe in the present moment.
The flight or fight response is a reaction to danger. It’s an instinctive reaction that prepares the body for action in situations where your life is threatened. When you sense danger, your sympathetic nervous system prepares you for survival. When this response is prolonged the body can get stuck. Somatic movement and restorative yoga are great ways to help the nervous system relax, calm down, and get back into balance. Somatic movement can also be used as an active meditation. It’s a great way to bring your attention to the body when you feel scattered and out of control.