Stress: A Catalyst For ChangeFeb 02, 2021
Musings on reclaiming your nervous system
It is common knowledge that stress is biologically unsustainable and any organism that is enduring consistent stress will ultimately have to adapt. Adaptation allocates specific resources used for healing and repair to those adaptive functions, which can hinder the function of the system’s integrity, or capacity for harmony.
One of the interesting things about stress is that it’s damaging impact is directly related to our perception of the experience of the stress. If we see the stress as difficult or impacting us in a negative way this perception will actually create physiological changes and adaptations that go along with that belief, causing breakdowns in our system. If we are able to endure and see stress as a beneficial source of motivation, change or a responsive trigger helping us to grow and adapt, our body will then respond to that stress by offering the resources needed to overcome and master the stressful state,
Many times the perception around stress or something being stressful has to do with us feeling frustrated or like we are not able to express ourselves or move in the direction that we would like. It cold be that there’s a barrier in our lives, or there is resistance from the people around us, or we feel violated, or oppressed by the systems that we exist in leading us to feel stuck or stagnated. These experiences will be naturally highlighted in the spring, where are we restricted from growing internally and externally?
All of this relates back to the bio energetics of the liver gallbladder wood element, which is responsible for how we plan and organize our lives and how we motivate and move on our path, and maintain that path as we integrate with the other people, places and experiences in our life. No matter what we will always come into conflict, or we may be faced with resistance in our environment or our experiences, but it is the liver gall bladder energy’s connection to our purpose and center that gives us the capacity to maintain a vision of our direction forward.
Wood energies when nourished and balanced allows us to be flexible in facing the different challenges that come up as we walk our path. When we’re not integrated or balanced in this wood energy, we can easily be knocked off the path, be resistant to walking that path, or even find that we can’t embrace the purposeful directional energies. The theme of the emotional state of the spring is anger which helps us stay on our course and have the motivation we need to stand up for ourselves and be assertive.
When this emotional state of anger is our of balance it can turn into inward resentments or outward as explosive shouting or abusive language and behavior towards that, which stands in our path. It is the virtue of spring to learn to live with the motivating and moving force of anger and be kind to ourselves as we have the courage to walk our paths and be kind to others along the way.
Stress can easily be associated to the emotion of frustration which is simply stuck anger that doesn’t have a pathway to move forward. And it can lead us to other kinds of stagnation self medication or overindulgence or the inability to feel like we can move forward.
Biologically stress pushes our nervous system into what we call sympathetic nerve supply. The nervous system has two primary modes of operation parasympathetic and sympathetic.
When we are in parasympathetic nerve supply this is where our growth and healing begins to happen. This is a space that is required for healthy balance and normal function, and is a state of being that our body needs to achieve on a daily basis. Typically, we achieve this through the restful periods of our day in our sleep throughout the night. Parasympathetic nerve supply is where digestion happens cellular repairs happen tissue repair and the capacity for the body to process and move through experiences, so that we can evolve and step into the next experience, equipt with the energy we need to grow.
Sympathetic nerve supply is when we are”sympathizing” with something in our environment, some sort of stimulation that we can touch, taste, smell, hear or see, this pushes our nervous system into a place where our body begins to react and use up energy to respond. It’s necessary for us to go into this mode so that we are able to interact and interface with the world around us and be engaged with stimulus. However the problem with our modern society and cultural standards, is that we tend to live with generalized perceptions about stress and lead stressful lives that cause breakdowns, and keep us activating our sympathetic nerve supply leading to living life on overdrive.
We have culturally created a malfunction in our nervous systems capacity to shift in a harmonic way between parasympathetic and sympathetic. We’ve learned how to keep going and forgotten the art of shutting down into growth and healing mode.
Over my years in clinical practice I have learned that it is vitally important that we learn activities and restorative practices that will help tone our nervous system, so that we can move naturally between these two states of being.
I have noticed that my patients who have a relationship to restoration are the ones who have access to deeper layers of healing and growth. I also have learned personally that my busy life I live requires equal restoration and internal time for active and passive growth which includes daily martial arts, qi gong and yin yoga, early bedtimes, nourishing healthy seasonal food and daily tea and meditative reflection time.We need to have a harmony between Yin, restorative healing, and yang active doing this is the base philosophy of Classical Chinese medicine and taoist lifestyle practices. When we are stuck in a sympathetic nervous system response, yang doing, our biophysical processes are essentially hijacked by this nervous system state. And yes we need these states to grow, create and thrive, but need to learn not to get stuck in them.
When we are in parasympathetic nervous system activation our muscles tense for action, especially the neck and shoulders, glucose is released to the muscles so that we can fight or flight if necessary, digestion, either slows or cease, pupils dilate, breathing becomes shallow and our heart rate increases.
If you think about this nervous system state and being stuck perpetually in this type of nervous system state, you can recognize where stress and the malfunctioning of the nervous system is directly related to chronic disease and illness. It is kind of a no brainer.
The practices that we have laid out in the spring health guide give access to restorative exploration, that will over time, tonify and support the balance of the nervous system and change the capacity of the body to experience stress, physically and psychologically. It is the active daily relationship to practices like these that put you in the driver’s seat of your body’s own health and potential for growth.
My hope is that it’s very empowering to think that you are your own best resource of balance and that you have direct control over your nervous system and its ability to communicate and modulate all functions of your life.
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