what it means to befriend the nervous system.
Befriending the nervous system is acknowledging the powerful connection between body and mind.
As human beings we’re wired for survival and it’s built into our nervous systems, but where that protection mechanism can start to fail us is where we’re held in constant states of survival from a nervous system that never recovered from past traumas. So the danger may be long gone, but our nervous systems are always on the lookout and essentially stuck in states of fight/flight, freeze or shutdown — making daily life very difficult.
This is where we want to learn how to work with our nervous systems. The goal isn’t to get rid of its job, but to be able to regulate and come back to safety. That way, we can respond and address the situations that triggered our defences from a place of clarity.
The nervous system ladder.
There are different modes or stages so to speak of the nervous system states. They are:
SAFE/SOCIAL - "I am okay. The world is safe and welcoming."
FIGHT/FLIGHT - "I am unstable. The world is dangerous and scary."
SHUTDOWN/FREEZE - "I am alone. The world is cold and desolate."
Getting back to safety.
Getting ourselves back to safety once in a state of nervous system activation can look like many different things. A few examples are taking constructive rest like meditation or a short nap, grounding your feet on the floor — outdoors on grass or sand is best, becoming mindful of your 5 senses and directing energy and awareness to your legs and feet — as if you were doing squats.
Remember that being regulated does not always mean being calm. Regulation means staying in the green zone where logic is still present and you have a sense of clarity and rationality.
This means that you can still be regulated and feel mad, anxious or sad.
A great way to look at this is remembering that story follows state. The state of your nervous system dictates how you perceive the world and yourself in it. A simple way to look at this is learning more about the nervous system ladder, learning what you need to come back to safety (or the green zone), and taking more control over your emotional state.
inner dialogue to practise with.
"What state am I in right now? What is my body trying to tell me? What story am I living?"
"What do I need right now?"
"What can I remember for the next time I feel dysregulated?"
Still interested in learning more? You may want to check out a few of these books that go more into depth on this topic:
• Befriending The Nervous System by Deb Dana
• In An Unspoken Voice by Peter A. Levine
• Healing Trauma, A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body by Peter A. Levine
• The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Thanks for reading!