Lately, it’s been feeling like the energy around the power of the nervous system, healing trauma, emotional well-being and mental health has really been ramping up in the best possible way!
But there are definitely some misconceptions out there about the connection between mental (and physical) health and stress responses in the nervous system.
What You Need To Know About Mental Health
At its core, mental and physical health goes awry due to the stress response being out-of-whack repeatedly for periods of time that are longer than a few minutes.
The research is conclusive as Bessel van der Kolk states in his book, The Body Keeps The Score:
“As the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study has shown, child abuse and neglect is the single most preventable cause of mental illness, the single most common cause of drug and alcohol abuse, and a significant contributor to leading causes of death such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and suicide.”
Maybe read that one more time: Not just mental illness, “but leading causes of death such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and suicide”!
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It’s important to know this ‘stress’ is not always abuse and neglect, but can be a result of ‘other’ kinds of stressors, some of which may result from many common procedures like getting our tonsils out, dental procedures (even getting braces!), shock traumas such as falls and concussions (the movie Concussion comes to mind), and other things we might not deem as ‘trauma.’ I get into these ‘other’ traumas in this article.
What is most important to know is this: When our biology and our psyche is put under chronic stress – usually a result of being in some form of environment wherein we were helpless and not able to escape and/or make sense of the sensations and scary things happening to us – we go into what is called survival stress, or survival physiology.
Survival stress and survival physiology is meant to end after the stress is gone (it should go away within minutes!). But if it keeps happening (as is the case with abuse, mis-attunement, attachment ruptures, and chronic neglect during infancy and childhood or old surgical and shock traumas not treated, for example), the system must go into drastic survival physiology and this is usually a biologically toxic cocktail of fight, flight, and freeze survival responses.
These drastic biological survival ‘skills’, while not what we are programmed for, have become the norm for much of humanity, and it has made us all incredibly unwell and kind of like functional zombies! In other words, many of us are living, day to day, stuck in our survival responses and that survival stress has huge effects on our physical and mental well being.
I wanted to bring up mental health because one of the more common things I’m seeing on my various social media feeds and through the questions my team and I get are folks who are experiencing overwhelming anxiety, panic, emotional tsunamis, and other highly charged internal experiences that lead them to not know what to do or how to come down from them.
Many suffer from chronic mental and physical illness. The trouble is that the human system, as I mentioned above, is not equipped for this level of constant survival stress, and with time, as the research has shown us, we get sick (I outline the mechanisms on this vlog). Our bodies are designed to come down from those stresses after a few minutes, and not stay in them for days, months or even years at a time.
The reason this is popping up more and more is two-fold:
1 – The conversation around mental health and trauma is now in the popular press. Just having this in the media will tease at the (biological) unconscious and because these ‘traumas’ want out of the biology, the person will start to feel more and not know what to do. This last part leads into the second reason more people are feeling more…
2 – As humans, especially in western and highly industrialized nations, we aren’t well versed in being with the body and being with uncomfortable sensations, feelings, and emotions. And unfortunately, many of our self-help and self-care practices are geared to help us cope and manage, not heal and release for real.
Another excerpt from van der Kolk’s book goes well here:
“When you have a persistent sense of heartbreak and gutwrench, the physical sensations become intolerable and we will do anything to make those feelings disappear. And that is really the origin of what happens in human pathology. People take drugs to make it disappear, and they cut themselves to make it disappear, and they starve themselves to make it disappear, and they have sex with anyone who comes along to make it disappear and once you have these horrible sensations in your body, you’ll do anything to make it go away.”
I believe we are experiencing a big wave of societal discomfort because we are, collectively, feeling this sleeping beast that has been locked in a cage and sedated for centuries and it really wants to get out. Now.
As Robert Scaer writes in his book, The Body Bears The Burden:
“Unfortunately for our species, our cages are often cultural and of our own making.”
“For generations we haven’t de-activated our self-protective threat responses.”
I know that might be a bit heavy, but it is the truth and we must face this reality because the pressure cooker of emotional repression needs to let off its steam.
So if this is you and you’re new here, please know you’re in the right place and what I teach throughout my online programs and workshops is geared to address these exact issues – anxiety, overwhelm, mental and chronic illness and more.
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Resources To Check Out
Healing Trauma – A FREE 3-Part Video Training
Start your nervous system apprenticeship today with The 21-Day Nervous System Tune-Up
Once a year my team and I run SmartBody SmartMindTM Learn more and get on the waitlist.