Before we are ready to make changes in our life, we need to have a foundational understanding of “our self”. We are more than bones and blood, although modern medicine focuses on this aspect the most – especially when it comes to diabetes management! Yet, what we see in the body is often the result of issues in other parts of us. Wellness can never come from a place of lack, so we must understand how to fill up and restore wholeness. In this three-part series, I will cover three simple and practical Nurse Coaching tools to understand this principle.
We can’t talk about our minds without first exploring a bit of our brain and nervous system. It is the seat of our thoughts and the messenger of our feelings among other things. I did a deep dive into your nervous system in this previous blog, so I won’t repeat myself. But as a quick reminder, this is what is going on that is pertinent to this lesson.
Your autonomic nervous system, the part you don’t consciously control, has two main states. The Fight or Flight state is your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and the Rest and Rebuild state is your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In a perfect world, we stay in our PNS state chillaxin’, loving, and creating, until some threat arises and we need to jump into action to save our butts! We flow back and forth between these two camps daily as needed. All animals tend to spend significant time in the PNS state where we like each other and want to pro-create. It ensures future generations, if you know what I mean!
When our SNS (vigilant) state is driving the bus we are hyper-focused on the external, the past, and the future. Looking for danger, previous experiences to help this current situation, and potential outcomes. Our minds are in hyperdrive, reactive, fearful, and defensive. Our brains literally seek out any information or thoughts that support a state of danger. It’s called a negativity bias and it is what makes us ruminate on the worst possible scenario.
And our brains don’t know the difference between what we imagine and what is real, so your thoughts alone fire up your defenses. Not a peaceful state at all – your mind is on fire!
On the other hand, when your PNS is in charge, you are relaxed, loving, open, trusting, peaceful, and calm. The body senses safety then softens and slows down. Your mind follows, led by a bio-bath of soothing chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones that literally change your chemical makeup. You are not the same person. You are your best, most natural self. Ahhhhhhh (sigh)
This inward rest and rebuild state frees up resources to heal, digest, repair, soothe, foster relationships, and dream. Baby, you were born to be this way. And all babies are pretty much this way!
Our nervous system influences our mental state exponentially so you won’t be surprised to learn that creating some peace in your mind requires the body to get on board.
Cultivate Peace in Your Mind
My second coaching tool for wellness is to cultivate peace of mind. We live in an age of constant stress, activity, production, and competition. Our culture seems to value busy and multitasking workaholics. Yet there is a cost for this type of lifestyle. We lose our peace of mind and there can be dire consequences.
When our minds are so busy fighting mental battles, we can get stuck in SNS, and our energy plummets. We literally run out of the resources we need to deal with life. With #diabetes, this looks like overwhelm, feelings of isolation, sub-optimal glucose control and give up. It’s called burnout. Your mind checks out and your body takes a knee.
A holistic perspective reminds us that our body and mind work together. In part one of this series we learned to create flow within all systems of the body to promote good health. This includes the flow and the balance in our nervous system. We can’t just decide to switch to Relax and Restore because its part our Autonomic Nervous system which lives in our subconscious mind. It does what it does based on info it is getting from your brain and your senses. But we can help it flow out of the danger zone with a few biohacks.
Getting the Body Involved
The first step is to recognize when your SNS/Fight/Flight system is activated. You will feel anxious, edgy, competitive, defensive, and tense. Once you notice, you remember it’s your nervous system (and not you who is causing all this stress) and you choose to do something different. The only part of your brain you want to engage is your intention and willpower. Don’t overthink it – just do it!
It might look something like this:
“I can never get my blood sugars right. I am exhausted. People think I am slacking off, but I just didn’t sleep last night because of hypos. Hypos – that reminds me. I need to stock up on glucose stashes. What can I use that won’t make people think I am just eating sugar when I am “not supposed to”. Aunt Bessie is the worst. She hates me. She always makes comments that make me feel bad. Gosh. I do feel bad. I want this to stop. My stomach hurts. Do I need to eat? What can I eat? How many carbs in that? Everyone else online seems to just do it perfectly. Even my doctor thinks I suck. Why am I the only one? If only this didn’t happen. I want to turn back time and get a do-over. What if I get complications someday? What will I do? How will I afford it? I am doomed. It’s no use. Why bother? I hate my job. I am calling in sick. No one will care anyway.”
“Wait – I just went down a rabbit hole. What the heck? It’s that Fight/Flight I read about. Well, at least I am noticing it. That was step 1. OK, I need to choose some things in my body that remind me I am safe. Slow deep breaths. Ahhhh. Feel a little better. Relax my shoulders – nothing happening I need to brace against in this moment. Ahhh. Unclench my jaw. Wow, I was grinding my teeth! Swallow. Soften. Move my body and focus on my senses. I’ll get out of my chair and walk outside.. Look at nature. The clouds are pretty. So soft and floaty. And look at that cool bird. He’s not stressed and just soaring around. I can imagine myself with that freedom. I love the smell of fresh-cut grass. Sigh. Gosh, I feel a bit lighter. My brain is a little less jumpy. Breathe again. Getting better. Now remind myself of what is true right now, right here. I woke up today. I am breathing. I have choices. I can only do today. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is unknown. I am OK right now. Wow! I can look back and see how my thoughts were out of control. That is not who I am, just rambling thoughts spurred by my stressed-out nervous system. It’s crazy but I do feel better. My body feels better. My mind is more peaceful. Still notice a few critical thoughts, but they seem further away for now. Ok. Better now.”
Peace is nothing new
And so it goes. It takes practice, but if you can catch yourself in the worry and frantic moments, and choose to do things that your body would only do when it was safe (stroll, notice, relax, breathe deeply), the PNS kicks it and everything softens. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. Then our minds follow. That is how we cultivate peace.
The knowledge that peace is a central ingredient for happiness and well-being is nothing new. This is ancient wisdom is present in many cultures and religions. Many greetings wish to bestow peace on one another around the world: “peace be with you”, “shalom”, “shanti”, “aloha”, “salam’ and many others. Prayers of peace exist in most religions. It’s something we innately know we need and want more of.
This peaceful state only exists when our parasympathetic state is engaged. It is the natural state of the human animal. It is in this place that healing is increased, digestion is improved, relationships are easier, creativity flourishes, and hope springs forth. And in return, this calm mental state encourages flow in the body and fosters connections of all kinds.
Diabetes ensures we will have much to think about, many things to do, and opportunities to worry every day. So to prevent burnout and remain energetic, cultivate moments of peace frequently. It helps. It is free. It feels good. It is healthy. It makes any situation better. And you deserve it!
Peace be with you,
Needs some help? I understand. I want to hear your story. Hop on my calendar.