In recent conversations with clients, I have become curious about something. There seems to be a perception that we don’t need to nurture ourselves or proactively do things that help our mental health or nervous system regulation. We should just be ok.
So the conversation will go something like this:
Me: how have the last two weeks been?
Client: I have been feeling stressed and anxious again, not sure why.
Me: What’s been happening in your life, what’s different?
Client: Oh, I haven’t been doing my exercise, I haven’t been meditating or taking my self-compassionate breaks. When I get anxious, I start to get mad at myself and I hate feeling this way, I want it to go away.
My clients come to me to learn how to do this differently. But it can be a struggle partly due to societal belief that we should be ok, that we don’t need to work on emotional health. Don’t do anything about your feelings unless you are really in distress. Any of this resonate? It does for me– often it’s not until I notice that I am irritable or anxious that I think ‘what should I do to help myself feel better’. However, I do a lot of things every day to help my physical health, as many of you do too I am sure. We brush our teeth every day- not just when we have a tooth ache (or I hope you do!). We eat vegetables, we sleep, drink water, some of us exercise, take vitamins… all to keep our bodies functioning and to help them not get sick.
But what do you do to keep your emotional and mental health healthy? And why is it so hard to get into the habit of doing these things all the time before we move out of our window of tolerance and are really in a state of dysregulation and distress. I’m pretty sure the neuropsych experts would be able to tell me that this is how our brain works… go along without noticing until it’s painful. Then our brain kicks into gear to relieve the pain. That makes sense to me, so how do we overcome this tendency?
We do have tendencies to ignore, keep going, not think we should need nurture or a break, or even to be so used to being anxious or irritable that we just don’t think there is another way. I love the word practice- because it says: ‘Hey you tend to do X, it’s not working so well, so let’s practice doing Y and see how that works’. Our brains can learn to do it differently, but we cannot expect to do it once and make things all better. We have to repeatedly do a new healthy coping or regulating behavior, over and over to allow our brains to create a neural pathway that can, with practice become more of the default tendency in how we respond or cope with life.
There are many ways to do this. It seems like for some of us it starts with noticing how we feel. Being curious and kind and checking in with yourself often throughout the day- how am I feeling? What does my body feel like, is there tension or ease? If you find some discomfort either emotionally or in your body or both- see if you can ease it by softening your muscles or taking a nourishing deep breath with a long exhale.
It’s normal to not feel ok, neutral or a state of calm all the time. It’s ok to be angry, stressed, sad. And if we practice noticing how we feel and responding with gentle ways to regain our balance, then we will be less likely to be stuck in a state of distress or overwhelm or dysregulation. Practice, and see what happens!