“Your brain and body is always taking care of you.”
This is something that I hear often in neuroscience and psychology circles, especially from therapist and healer Bonnie Badenoch.
My mentor, Dr. Gordon Neufeld, goes one step further. He says that “sadness is how Nature takes care of us” – that our tears and grief help us come to terms with the inevitable frustrations, disappointment, and losses of life.
In a time when many of us are feeling dysregulated in our own bodies – and in our collective cultural bodies – this idea that our brains, bodies, and even our sadness are there to take care of us brings a gentle exhale and an invitation of holding.
When anxiety arises
This week, I found myself swimming in a sea of anxiety. Feeling the pressure of uncertain income and increasing expenses, the challenges of my young teens and their frustrations of living amidst social distancing and online learning, the absence of my normal social structures and supports, and the swirl of heated politics in my community and country, I could feel the anxiety as the tension across my back and the coil of nerves in my gut.
Breathing with – and feeling – these feelings is uncomfortable. And I felt something in me soften as I put my hand on my beating heart: “I know this is hard right now, sweetheart.”
I sat and rocked with the tension and coil of fear in my guts, bringing warmth and care to these scared parts.
And then I heard a question arise, “What would help?”
Several ideas arose in the silence – a daily walk with the dogs in nature, where I feel a bigger perspective; taking time for self care in the mornings before starting my work day, and taking a few minutes each day to call a loved one to cope with the continued loneliness and social isolation.
I felt my nervous system settle into this greater holding, where it was held in vast hands. And I felt supported by simple things I could do that would nurture my being.
When our fight response gets activated
Anxiety, fear, tension, and other uncomfortable emotions can be so challenging. It’s easy – and understandable – to see them as something negative. We can see them as ‘something that shouldn’t be happening’ or like we’re ‘doing something wrong’ when these emotions arise in our bodies and being.
This sense of, “I’m doing something wrong” or “this is wrong” can activate a fight response, where we try to fight against, fix or eliminate these feelings. We may find ourselves caught in painful self attack, self criticism, or frustration in addition to the anxiety.
The wisdom of our nervous system
This idea that “our brains are always trying to take care of us” can be a powerful antidote when we’re feeling caught in anxiety about feeling anxious, or are feeling shame for feeling scared.
Our brains and nervous systems move through periods of safety and unease. Our nervous systems are constantly assessing the external environment to sense, “Am I safe?” Feelings of safety can and do come and go.
When we pause and remember this idea the fight response can soften.
Instead of feeling alone – like it’s all on our shoulders – or caught in a battle – where we have to ‘fix’ this problem emotion – we relax into a greater trust of our bodies’ wisdom, our brain’s ‘tend and befriend’ response, and how deeply we are cared for.
We can respond to the variability with more curiosity – “Hmm, I wonder what’s activated for me right now?” – wisdom, and presence.
Moving from fight to ‘tend and befriend’
In my experience, when I pause, allow, and make a space of welcome for the anxiety – and when I acknowledge the wisdom of my nervous system that’s trying to protect me – I feel less annoyed, frightened, and ashamed of feeling anxious.
I open to other parts that bring compassion, nurturing, presence, warmth and care. I feel held and cared for and less alone.
And I open to compassion in action: “What can help?”
Trying it on – your experience
I invite you to try on this idea for yourself, to feel what you notice in your body, heart, and nervous system when you take in this idea that “your brain is always taking care of you.”
What does it feel like to open to the idea that from your very biology up, there are so many ways you are cared for?
That your human body and its systems and reactions is not mired in pathology, but wired for protection, goodness, connection, interdependence, and healing?
Whatever challenges you may be facing today, it’s my wish that you are surrounded by a sense of holding, and care.