Updated: Mar 15, 2022
How the exhaustion, overwhelm, depression, and burnout you are experiencing can be rooted in this one often-overlooked system... the nervous system.
Have you ever had a moment where you're like, "Why did I respond like that? Where did that come from? What is wrong with me?!?" I get it. And there's an explanation. We are complex human beings with a system (the nervous system) that has been wired and designed to protect us and keep us safe.
The prefrontal cortex is our rational, thinking part of the brain that keeps us calm, engaged, focused, intentional, and in control. But when your nervous system and the automatic parts of your brain that are firing (or maybe misfiring), that's when the battle begins.
You may have heard of fight/flgiht/freeze. This is how that can show up in your body and emotions... (Click below to expand.)
* frustration, anger, or rage (fight)
* worry, anxiety, fear, panic (flight)
* a strong urge to get away from it all
* anger that bursts out of nowhere
* increased heart rate and blood pressure
* decreased digestion and immunity
* tenseness in muscles that won't go away
* living in survival mode
* helplessness, numbness, depression
* hopelessness, shame, shutdown
* increased pain tolerance and feeling "cut off" from body
* decreased heart rate and blood pressure
* decreased engagement with others; checked out
So when you feel like you're overreacting to loved ones, or feel disconnected and shut down around them, what's happening is that the AUTOMATIC parts of your brain that are trying to protect you have been engaged and you find yourself in fight/flight/freeze.
You can use that really strong prefrontal cortex to "keep it together" and "stay engaged". However, most of that brain power is used when you're at work or socially engaging with others. All day long, your nervous system is firing and being triggered in ways that are HIJACKING that prefrontal cortex. That's why you can go home and feel like you've become a totally different person!
And all the information that is being fired around your brain and body is traveling on the "super-highway" of your nervous system, called the Vagus Nerve. This nerve travels from the brain stem, down the sides of the neck, around the heart and lungs, and throughout the digestive system. 20% of the fibers in this nerve send information from the brain to the body, and 80% carry information from the body to the brain. 1
If we are holding on to unresolved stressors or trauma, our nervous system can become "stuck" in fight/flight/freeze.
When you do find yourself in fight/flight or freeze, give yourself grace. Understand that there IS a battle within and begin to identify when that stress response kicks into gear for you. Remember that your mind is overworking, the nervous system is firing, the body is responding - all while you are engaging with the world around you.
The key is to find things that calm, regulate, heal, and strengthen your nervous system and the parts of your brain that are automatically firing in response to stressors without you even being aware of it.
Returning to a state of peace, rest, and engagement with those around you is possible, and healing your nervous system is a key piece of the puzzle.
If you're looking for support on steps you can take to heal and strengthen your nervous system, join my 4-Session Nervous System Reset small group program.
Take care of yourself,