You may know me as the PT who teaches yoga and is crazy about nervous system health, rest, relaxation and healing. But what if these concepts are foreign and uncomfortable for you? What if you’ve tried allllll the relaxation in the world and it just doesn’t work for you; you're still stressed out with all the garbage that goes with it? What’s wrong with you?
Simply, there is nothing wrong with you! You and your body are doing what they're supposed to do - you are responding to the daily stressors of life by ramping up for fighting or fleeing. There’s lots and lots of go-go-go energy inside of you. You’re ready to take on that tiger or run as fast as you can to get away from it. That’s how we work!
The trouble comes because we are humans with cultural and societal “norms” that don’t allow us to complete the fight or flight scenarios. In the wild, if an animal senses threat, it’s physiology goes on high alert - all the stress hormones are released, the pupils dilate, blood is shunted away from organs to limbs in preparation for fighting or running. Once the threat has passed, the animal discharges the energy of these physiological functions by trembling, twitching, then getting back to business. For us, stress comes in a myriad of different forms; it’s not just a lion in the tall grass. It’s schedules and traffic and relationships and bosses and blue light and not enough sleep and on and on and on. Modern humans are under a tremendous amount of biological stress on a daily basis. So we are nearly constantly bathed in stress chemicals. And how often after an ugly encounter or stressful situation are we allowed time or space to discharge that energy through moving, punching the air, yelling, moving our legs or just shaking it off? Pretty much never. So, does it make sense why you always feel wired and tired? It’s exhausting living in a constant state of fight or flight and it’s challenging for our cells, too. Being in a near constant state of fight or fight doesn’t allow our cells to regenerate like they need to, which over time can lead to disease. That’s the real connection between stress and disease. It’s not the actual stressful situations that are causing disease, it’s our inability to effectively deal with the aftermath of the stressful situation that accumulates over time and causes disease.
Which brings me back to 'what do I do if I’ve tried all the relaxation things and still can’t relax or worse, actually feel more stressed after?'
Here’s where a mindful movement practice and getting in touch with the way your body is feeling is key. When we are in a constant state of fight or flight, we are often stuck in our head and lose touch with what’s happening in the body. Breaking the pattern of being always in our head and learning to listen to our body is the first step in breaking the cycle of fight and flight. Part of our stress physiology is that when we ignore the body for too long, this causes even more stress for us; it’s like our body doesn’t trust itself to listen to what’s happening so it keeps sending more and more urgent signals, more stress hormones, we get sick, we’re in pain, our digestion goes nuts, headaches, fatigue, something, anything to get us (our nervous system) to pay attention to what’s happening. (Any of this sounding familiar?)
Learning to listen to the body is a great first step in regaining the trust of our body and helping it to settle down, so to speak. When we prove to our physiology that we are on it’s side and we listen, it slows down and eventually stops setting off fire alarms at every little thing. Our pain lessens, digestion and sleep improve, etc. But these neural connections that send the alarm are strong; they’ve been practiced for years and years. So the pain, fatigue, insomnia, etc doesn’t go away over night. We don’t just decide “I’m listening to my body now” and everything resolves. We have to form new neural connections and patterns over lots and lots of time and lots and lots of repetition.
If listening to our body is the first step, practice and dedication and consistency in listening to our body are the second steps.
The third step is to find practices that help you discharge some of that pent up fight or flight energy you’ve been storing for decades. What does that look like?
It’s going to be different for each of us depending on our unique physiology, experiences and cultural expectations. It bears repeating, it is unique to each of us. If learning to listen to your body is step one and we really practice this and get good at this, what we do with step three will likely be apparent. Some of us will want a long slow cardio session, some of us will feel like HIIT is what we need, some long walks or hikes in nature, some need weightlifting, some will benefit from yoga where we mindfully move from strong pose to strong pose. But ALL of us will need to be present during our movement sessions. No more zoning out. Turn off the tv, turn the music down and listen to your body. These are no longer punishment workouts to burn calories or beat ourselves up. These are movement sessions where we listen to what we need. Humiliated by that jerk of a boss a few too many times? How about hitting the weights and lifting a few heavy things to make you feel powerful? Working under a deadline on a project? Maybe a few HIIT sessions during the week and a nice long hike on the weekend is what you need. Likely, all of us would benefit from a variety of movement practices and likely our needs and desires will change as our situation changes. But the key is to listen.
In addition to movement practices, certain bodywork has the benefit of discharging some of this fight or flight energy while also helping our body relax in a cultural normal way (I keep bringing up culture and society because these pressures are far greater than most of us realize, they’re buried deeeeep, and doing things that seem weird, i.e. go against societal norms, only adds more stress to our already stressed states for most of us. Bodywork is considers an ok thing to do for most of us nowadays.) Generally, regular massage doesn’t have this effect (though for some it does). More likely to help is craniosacral and myofascial release. A skilled therapist who understands the stress cycle, fight, flight, how this is all stored in our body, and is trauma informed is hard to find and rare. It’s not something that is generally taught in massage programs; therapists generally have to seek out specific extra training. (I’m happy to point you in a direction.)
And step four then is, once you’ve learned to listen, are picking your movement activities based on how you feel and are consistent, coming back to relaxation techniques. Now maybe meditation makes sense or restorative yoga or breath work or yoga nidra or napping. Anything to allow restoration to take place in our cells, for healing to occur. Now yoga makes a little more sense. Now we feel like we have space inside of us to deal with the crap (we all have it - I’m talking traumas, therapy-type stuff that needs working on).
It’s a process, it doesn’t happen overnight. Heck, it may not happen in a year. But it can happen. And maybe the order you do things in is different and if it’s working, yay! Keep doing it! But if you’re stuck, or you keep going through or over the same stuff time and time again, if your pain is not getting better, or you keep getting sick or you’re still not sleeping, here, with me, is a good place to start! And I’d love to help you!
Are you here? Do you know you need to do something, but you feel like a failure because the things that are supposed to work don’t work for you? Or you’ve tried and it kind of helps, but life? I get it. We are social creatures. It is literally in our DNA - we are wired to work together. That’s why having a coach, someone you pay to help you and hold you accountable and guide you and empower you is SO important. If you could have done it alone or with your BFF who’s in the same predicament as you, you’d have done it and would be feeling better. You know what to do, but it’s so hard alone. My BodyMind Coaching containers are designed around your nervous system, how it works, what it needs. And as a PT, I have literally spent years studying the nervous system, human biology and physiology, as well as all the hands on techniques to help you do this. You CAN heal. I can help you.