The thrust of the masterclass
My Mind News recently attended Claire’s masterclass to gain insight into why the nervous system is essential and why we cannot underestimate the impact of the nervous system on our mental health and wellbeing. Claire’s strapline for the sessions was –
“Learn the science of feeling safe enough to fall in love with life and take the risks of a life well lived!”
This action-packed masterclass took place over three and a half hours. The masterclass was rich with the science behind the nervous system but also simple and easy-to-implement practices to help.
It was an emotional journey of realization for many, which was insightful, presented in an informed way, and delivered with passion and empathy. Today and tomorrow, over two parts, we will present our thoughts and findings following attending Claire’s masterclass. Here are some of My Mind News’ key takeaways.
The Nervous system
In simplistic terms, the nervous system controls everything you do and how you think and feel. It looks after those parts we do not have to think about, our senses, body functions, beating heart, memory, and movement.
The autonomic nervous system is an essential element of the nervous system that controls how we respond, e.g., fight or flight. The parasympathetic and sympathetic nerves are part of the autonomic nervous system.
Why is a regulated nervous system important?
The sympathetic nerve is responsible for helping us handle stress by releasing adrenaline and other hormones. The parasympathetic nerve is responsible for assisting the body in preparing for rest.
Significantly both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems need to work harmoniously to have a regulated nervous system.
From a wellbeing perspective, Claire advises that there are five key reasons why we all need to work on regulating our nervous system. These include –
- More resilience;
- Better immunity;
- Greater sense of emotional balance;
- Increased wellbeing; and
- Control of all organs and structures in our body
What causes our nervous system to become off-balanced?
During the masterclass, Claire passionately shared her story with us and translated the science into everyday life examples. Claire advised that five key reasons cause our nervous system to become off-balanced.
These included long-term stress, history of trauma, unprocessed emotions, childhood experiences, and modern society, including technological overstimulation.
Daily, a dysregulated nervous system manifests as emotional and physical symptoms. These include relationship struggles, overreacting and/or hypersensitivity, anxiety, depression, acne, shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
The window of tolerance
Each one of us has a ‘window of tolerance,’ which is based on our life experiences and how we respond to certain events that occur in our life.
Daniel J. Siegel introduced the window of tolerance concept in 1999 in his book The Developing Mind: Toward A Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. It has been widely adopted by therapists who work with traumatized clients.
However, Claire advises that it is a valuable tool in helping us understand our response and its impact on our nervous system. The concept focuses on how broad our window of tolerance is when we experience a range of intense emotions in our everyday life.
In an ideal world, our window of tolerance should be wide, as we are comfortable with our emotions and can regulate them. This is known as the optimal arousal zone.
When an individual experiences stress and trauma, the window of tolerance shrinks, which throws them off balance. Hyperarousal and hypoarousal are the two emotional extremes that reduce the size of our window of tolerance.
When experiencing these extremes, your body automatically responds by going into fight or flight – hyperarousal or shuts down/freeze response – hypoarousal.
The key is to find practices that will allow you to be able to cope with many challenges. Engaging with a counselor or therapist can be helpful when you cannot extend the window yourself. Just like you wouldn’t try to heal a broken bone or a deep wound without professional attention, our mental health is equally as precious and important.
What it feels like when you are not in the optimal arousal zone
When you experience hyperarousal, your sympathetic response is either to ‘flight or fight.’ This response causes disorganized cognitive processing. The individual feels increased sensations, hyper-emotional reactivity, or constant feeling in a hyper-vigilant state. Intrusive images and flashbacks can also occur during this response.
For those who find themselves in a state of hypoarousal, this disables cognitive processing and can result in reduced physical movement. They feel detached and are the absence of any sensations and have numbed their emotions. The individual feels like you are in a constant state of freeze.
Claire advised that “when your body is stuck in survival mode, you cannot function properly, let alone heal.” She shared that according to recent research, at least 85% of us live in a state of hyperarousal or hypoarousal.
This is a shocking statistic as it means that for 85% of us, our body is constantly under pressure and releasing adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones, which are detrimental to our physical and psychological health.
How do we change?
Claire gave us time in the masterclass to identify our ten most common triggers. Across this group, these ranged from overcommitting, being late, feeling unseen, feeling unheard and feeling let down, overworking, and perfection, to name a few.
Once we identified our triggers, she asked us to determine what brings us back to safety – our glimmers. These ranged from a favorite song, speaking to a friend, listening to a podcast, walk in nature.
Then Claire introduced the concept of ‘Tame the tiger’ based on one of Dr. Dan Siegel’s works called ‘Name it to Tame it’- a five-step plan to help you regulate your nervous system (feelings/emotions) in a matter of minutes:
Taming the Tiger
Step 1: Name it and tame ‘it’ – “I am feeling triggered right now.”
Step 2: Create space.
Step 3: Ground yourself (feet, hands, and five senses).
Step 4: Breath – 10 deep breaths
Step 5: Glimmer
This process was so impactful for all of us who attended. After reviewing our triggers, an immediate sense of grounding and positivity filled the air.
This exercise led to the recognition that most of us were not residing in the optimal arousal zone, and our window of tolerance was rapidly shrinking.
De-shaming your nervous system
The function of shame and the impact it has on the nervous system was covered by Claire. The different types of shame and how unprocessed shame and self-sabotage impacts our nervous system were untangled during the masterclass.
Also, how we responded to shame and self-soothed uncomfortable emotions. The good news is that intentional and purposeful daily habits, along with a good dose of compassion, patience, persistence, and practice, will help us regulate and have a more balanced nervous system.
To be continued…
Join us again for Part Two, when we discover and delve into the nine powerful practices to nourish our nervous system.
Do let us know what you think of the contents of this article so far in the comments section below.