For some of you, you may have read my last post and asked, "How do I change my limbic system then? Aren't I supposed to be stopping my automatic negative thoughts and redirecting? If I'm not battling with my limbic system isn't it just going to keep on doing what it is doing?"
Yes, it is true we don't want to allow our limbic system to run whatever program it feels like. However, battling with it is not going to change those programs. What you resist persists, and often grows. Instead, we want to access the higher and wiser parts of the self and the brain, and put those back in charge. Redirecting toward something else is the focus, not on trying to make something go away. You can think of it like a both/and, rather than an either/or. What I mean by that is, your limbic system might be caught up in a loop, and rather than trying to stop that loop, you acknowledge and label it for what it is, and ask yourself, "what else can I give my attention to right now?" That loop may still be running in the background as you reorient your attention, and that is okay. We are no longer feeding the loop with our focus. We are growing something else instead. Over time, our capacity to sustain our focus on the other will get stronger and the loop will die down because it's not being reinforced.
In order to bring regulation back into the nervous system, we don't need to have long periods of time in a calm, elevated or regulated state, we just need micro moments. These micro moments build on each other and eventually we reach a tipping point where our brain and nervous system can then sustain regulation/elevation for longer, and be there more frequently. Our goal is not to be in a state of wellbeing and regulation 24/7, but rather to recognize when we are not and to move ourselves towards wellbeing when needed. It is this flexibility to move between states that is often difficult when we have limbic system dysfunction, and this is a skill that we need to develop in order to cultivate resilience and thrive.
So now our focus is off of what needs to change and onto what we want to cultivate instead, along with the tools to get us there. As I said last week, self-compassion can be a stepping stone to help us transition our focus. Letting go of beating ourselves up for what is, recognizing that this is a difficulty & that difficulties are a common human experience, and then bringing in compassion for ourselves to meet this moment helps us navigate from fight mode into another focus.
Mindful awareness of the present, or something in your environment can also help. Research has shown that five minutes of connecting with nature helps to bring your nervous system into regulation, whether it is actually getting out in it, or just staring out a window or watching nature scenes on your computer screen. Looking for that something to be grateful for, thinking about people you love or who love you, listening to beautiful music, contemplating all the people who have been kind to you over the past two days (whether it was with a smile, holding a door, cooking a meal for you, having a conversation, etc.) can help us re-engage the frontal lobes of our brain (the higher and wiser part) and come out of the loop. Experiment with these options (and any others that connect with you with beauty, appreciation, or love) and see which ones work best for you. Remember that it is through repetition that we build this skill set of gentle redirection and refocusing on what we want to grow.
And as you are growing this skill set, if you find yourself in a moment where you've gone back into battle mode, simply stop, put your hand on your heart, take a deep breath, and remember that you are in the process of learning a new skills and know that you don't have to be perfect. Then gently expand your awareness outward to see what else you can bring in and give attention to in this moment.
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at email@example.com
Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com