Global pandemic. These are anxiety provoking words for anyone paying attention. The unknowns and unpredictable outcomes of the coronavirus are as provocative as anything else and thinking or talking about them can quickly overcharge our nervous systems and plunge us into the distorted thought processes that follow.
This causes us pain and suffering personally and it causes us to be distracted and emotionally dysregulated when it comes to the people we take care of-our children, partners, clients, co-workers.
Take me for an example.
Evidently influenced by a process of “capture” or over-attribution of salience to negative stimuli, I have found myself repeatedly transfixed by the news cycle and only half-aware of the onset of my mini-news addiction. I may mutter to myself, “This is not good for me,” but it can be hard to actually limit my news intake to relevant data. It is also hard (in my transfixed state) to notice that my heart rate has shot up and that I am holding my breath. And as a bodyworker and a therapist, I have been trained to notice these things.
So, what do I do, or how do I re-achieve a regulated state?
For some people- and I am one- the telling of my fears induces crying and thus I am able to re-regulate my nervous system. I’ve learned these principles of regulation through my training in Somatic Experiencing and my study of Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing technique and of cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness.
To break it down, these body-based approaches to emotional regulation have shown that when we stop dissociating (aka, using “thinking” as a way to get away from uncomfortable bodily sensations), the sensations which form the backdrop experience that is our “emotional state,” slowly but dependably dissolve into states of greater ease.
I know this is true- I have witnessed it happen inside myself, I have helped other people with it- it is very reliable. In other words, we benefit from simply tracking the felt sense of the “problem” or distress within our body until- mostly by the simple act of feeling it and “tracking” it- it titrates down or goes away on its own. Which, again, happens very reliably and is therefore the cornerstone of the somatic psychology movement.
So for me, re-regulation looks like: telling the story of my fears to a receiving witness, coming to the physiological cusp of tears which already means my nervous system is calming (note that this needs to be the organized type crying and not hysterical, activating crying, which is another thing), then after inventorying the situation as it is (global pandemic = real threats), feeling the problem from within my more regulated nervous system, I am able to notice a shift in thinking that follows from feeling regulated (i.e., “it’s not good, but there are actions we can take”).
Finally, if it’s evening, it’s giving myself permission to go to bed and let go of all of it, which is the ultimate nervous system reset.
Ann Matney, PCLC