I’ve spent that past few months learning about our nervous systems through a therapy approach called Trauma Resiliency Model. So one thing I’ve learned about our nervous systems is that any change, positive or negative puts stress on our system and when we have a lot of changes at once, it can bump us out of our resilient zone, which can look like irritability, anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion. Right now, we’re in a big seasonal and schedule transition into summertime. School is out, we’re shifting our schedules to accommodate vacations and family visits, our client’s schedules are shifting, the days are longer, we’re busier or less busy.
Most of us are coming from a place where we were in a rhythm and things were more or less settled internally and externally so we’re able to stay in the zone with minor issues like our partner snapping at us, our son pushing our boundaries, someone cutting us off in traffic, being late to an appt, but when our system is already a unsettled due to having to navigate a lot of change, minor ‘threats’ can really throw us off. We snap back at them, we lose our patience, we flip the other driver off, we feel stuck in anxiety. And unfortunately, what often happens next is that we beat ourselves up–not seeing the whole picture, we shame ourselves for not being able to stay grounded, like ‘why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut?’ ‘I’m such a jerk’ ‘I’m an awful mom’. We’ve all be trapped in the pattern before, right? Fortunately, our bodies know what to do so eventually or with the help of therapy and other supports we’re able to come back into balance. But what if we could be compassionate with ourselves in the moment…or better yet, if we were aware of the impact of transitions on our nervous systems so that we could take preventative measures.
Some of you may not be familiar with self-compassion so I’m going to take a minute to explain. It’s one of my favorite topics and one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and for our relationships! Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, breaks self-compassion down into three steps: 1)acknowledging our suffering “Boy I’m going through a lot of changes right now, no wonder it was hard for me to stay grounded” 2)acknowledging our common humanity “This is how our nervous systems work–it’s part of being human. I was right on the edge of my resilient zone and just got bumped out. I am not the only person in the world who has lost their temper” 3)saying something kind to ourselves “It’s okay that I made a mistake or lost my temper. I can’t be perfect.” This process allows our system to settle, come back into balance rather than staying stuck. Then we can do what we need to do to make things right or we can be in a more resilient place so that we don’t keep reacting as the day goes on.
The second piece that I mentioned above is preventative measures when you know there’s a lot of change. A side note here: you may not actually feel the stress of the all of the change but chances are on some level, your body is experiencing it. We know, however, are affected, some of us more than others, by the energy of those around us. So if we’re around a bunch of stressed out people, our system is going to feel the stress, too. This also means that there are probably more opportunities to get hooked by others who are not in their resilient zones. No blame here, just information. At any rate, I want to share some of my favorite ways to prepare for and stay grounded during transitions (seasonal or otherwise):
1)Create a daily practice to provided some stability/consistency during times of change. This may be something as simple as paying attention to/creating a ritual out of something you already do each day like washing your face in the morning and at night, notice how the water feels on your face, etc. Or you could add something in like standing barefoot in the grass each morning while you sip your coffee and listening to the birds. Ideally, you’re doing these things at about the same time each day, which is calming to your system. Think of toddlers or puppies and the need for structure to feel safe and be able to settle.
2)Take care of your body. Get plenty of sleep. Ask yourself if you really want that second glass of wine. Ask your body what it needs. Pay attention when you’re eating and to what you’re eating–make sure your body actually wants what you’re putting into it. Exercise daily, even just taking a 5-10min walk to move your body. Do an at home foot soak with lavender and epsom salt. Take care of your skin: home facial or dry brush. Get a massage or acupuncture–if this is out of your budget, offer to trade shoulder or head massages with a friend (even just 5-10min).
3) Other forms of self-care. I hate to break self-care into categories because we all know that our emotions, physical bodies, spirits, thoughts are all connected but for the purpose of this list, I feel like it’s helpful to separate the physical from the rest. Journal. Go to therapy. Get organized. Make a list. Clear out clutter and stuff you don’t need. Go on a hike or just be in nature. Play. Go to live music and take it in. A key ingredient to deepening the effects of self-care is to notice how your body takes it in, notice what happens with your muscles, your breathing your heart rate as you’re doing the self-care.
4)Pay attention to transitions in your days, like waking up, leaving for work, returning from work, going to sleep. It can help to have a daily practice around transitions. Or just take time to honor the transition with intention, like setting an intention for the day or acknowledging a gratitude. Stretch and feel your body wake up. Reach over and connect to your partner even just with a hand on their arm and a deep breath. Listen to your favorite song or a song that helps you settle on the way to and/or from work. Sing along or not 🙂 Clear your office space or house with sage/palo santo upon arriving and before leaving. Honor these small transitions in your day and it will help create resilience for the bigger transitions that you’re in.
5)Practice self-compassion when do you get bumped out of your zone. This can be especially hard to do when we’re not in a resilient place so it can help to call a friend or someone who is really good at offering empathy, who you know isn’t going to reinforce the shame or the guilt. Receiving empathy from someone helps us to feel it within ourselves and our nervous system settles.
I hope these ideas help you or someone you know stay grounded and in balance as we transition into the summer!
Challenge: Choose at least one of the practices above and commit to doing it. Write it down in a place where you can see it. Put it in your calendar. Set up the appointment. Tell someone who can help hold you accountable. Reply to this post. I’d love to hear from you!
Affirmation: Be gentle with yourself.
Helpful Resource: Check out this Self-Compassion eCourse with Brene Brown and Kristen Neff–it offers a lot of wonderful experiential practices to enhance your ability to be compassionate with yourself and others