It is easy to let life take hold and not find time for self-care practices. I know I struggle with this a lot! Then I remember the very real benefits of a deep self-care practice and the downside of NOT practicing. The reality is we don’t have time not to since a lack of self-care will always lead to a depletion of inner resources.
Many people do not practice any kind of self-care until they hit some kind of wall. A typical pattern is to run themselves ragged, become depleted, crash and then have to recharge in order to begin again. The problem with this approach is (1) you already entered a state that plays havoc with your health; (2) there is a tendency with this pattern to recharge and once again begin the roller coaster ride so it is honestly not a solution.
Life does not have to be a roller coaster of ups and downs. We can create a fairly smooth path through our lives with a few simple tools and skills. It is possible to build an inner core of energy that can serve as a deep wellspring of strength, resiliency and balance.
Development of this core not only provides strength, it also enables you to be more fully present to life and to others. Being centered within this core allows you to maintain a healthier balance in all areas of your life. As a result, you will be able to move forward with stamina and purpose, but also quietly retreat to nourish your mind, body and spirit when necessary.
A Conditioned Stress Response
We are programmed to respond with a fight, flight or freeze response in reaction to stress. This primarily functions to keep us safe. If this response is triggered too often or there is a situation where it is triggered and there is nowhere for the energy and chemistry of that response to go then we end up with it essentially stuck in our system. The result is that our immune system wears down and we become susceptible to illnesses. Over time this mechanism contributes to the breakdown of health and we get sick. We can intervene in this cycle through proper management of stress so during periods of prolonged stress we can find adequate relief. This is one example of effective self-care.
Neural Networks: Thoughts Grow Into Things!
Neural networks are groups of nerve cells that work either independently or as a unit in a healthy brain. They are part of how we learn and remember. They are how memories are formed, how change occurs in the brain with new experience, how new skills evolve, as well as how conscious and unconscious behaviors work, and how we process sensory information.
Whew! That is a lot not only for those tiny little neurons to be doing, but also for us to digest! Essentially what we really need to understand is that there is a very real mechanism that registers our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors in our biology. Think of these neural nets as the buttons that are pushed that cause you to behave, think and feel certain ways, even when your conscious mind would prefer that you had a different response.
Triggers in the external world activate neural nets and we automatically have thoughts and memories from an earlier time. The part of our brain where old memories have been encoded has been switched on. This automatic firing then creates our thoughts. We all have had the experience of feeling like there are parts of us that are speaking with the voice of a parent, teacher of negative aspect of ourselves. Neural nets in action!
Each time we have this kind of experience the nets become thicker. The more we use them the more prominent they get. It’s no wonder we can often feel out of control or at the mercy of forces outside our control. The Pogo cartoon phrase “We have met the enemy and he is us” comes to mind. But rather than see this as a conflict within self we can simply understand that there are real reasons why things are the way they are and use the information to change.
This dynamic functions well in many cases to ensure our safety and survival, it’s just that it also runs amok in other areas of our lives where we would be better served by a higher level of mind and freer associations. Think about all the stored information you have within you that allows you to go about your day and not have to figure out each moment of your life. It is useful to have memories that fire automatically so you do not need to remember each step consciously of how to drive, how to use the phone, computer etc. So this kind of brain wiring can be very useful.
Now consider all the thoughts you have in a day that affect your sense of yourself and your experience of other people, your ability to do your job, communicate with others or engage in new challenges. It is said that we have 60,000 thoughts a day. How many of those automatic thoughts/neural nets are working on your behalf bringing you peace, happiness, well-being, a strong and steady sense of yourself and your place in the world? This is the area where we typically need to take conscious charge of things and begin to install new neural nets that are more in line with what we desire in our lives. This is a point where we have a choice. To not work with ourselves at this level is fundamentally opting for a life of unconsciousness.
There are people who have major life changing epiphanies that change everything about them and their lives for the better. However most of us need to go through a slow steady process of transformation that is really about embracing our power and learning to express our true potential and authentic selves.
Knowing there is very real anatomy and physiology attached to our experience can serve as a motivator for development and maintenance of an effective self-care practice.