As our world undergoes an accelerating trend of profound changes, most of us attempt to adjust to the shifting demands of our lives, society, economy, and climate as best as we can yet with changes happening at such a fast pace, we are simply not equipped to adapt as effectively or timely to maintain our balance.
If you’ve been feeling anxious and on-edge, you are not alone, the latest reported figures by Kaiser suggest that 30% of US adults are experiencing anxiety and/or depressive disorder symptoms up from 11% prior to the pandemic.
A large majority of my clients are reporting anxiety and depression symptoms ranging from “extreme overwhelm and hopelessness” to “feelings of an impending doom”. The pandemic has done a number on our individual and collective nervous systems and with little to no sustainable treatment options, individuals are increasingly reliant on strong pharmaceutical medications, alcohol, and substances to simply manage their day-to-day lives. While these substances can offer temporary symptoms relief, they do not address the root of our challenges: nervous system overwhelm due to rapidly changing life circumstances.
Unfortunately, the uncertainties of our seemingly chronic environmental disasters, the economic and emotional impact of the pandemic, and the tumultuous socio-political dynamics are likely going to be a part of our lived realities for the foreseeable future.
While we can work towards addressing these issues, the monumental and complex nature of these challenges requires vast resources, willingness, and time to resolve. Meanwhile, our nervous systems continue to be overwhelmed and overloaded by the stressful demands of our times.
It has taken hundreds of millions of years for our nervous systems to adapt to their current state in response to changes in our environment, with changes happening at such a rapid pace since the industrial revolution, we have outpaced the slow evolutionary process of our nervous systems leaving us overloaded and under-resourced to cope with the demands of our times.
The more uncertainties we face, the more we find ourselves in a state of survival and stress. Our nervous systems have a finite capacity to hold and handle stress, therefore the only options available to us are:
Reduce the stress load in our bodies, environment, and relations
Develop more capacity in our nervous systems
The process through which these objectives are achieved is referred to as Resilience Training.
The first objective is accomplished through a combination of physical care (diet, fitness, and supplementation), nervous system care (regulating practices and resources), and healthy personal boundaries. Think of your nervous system as a glass that is full with no capacity for even a single drop of liquid, the goal here is to reduce the amount of liquid in the glass container to avoid overflowing as a metaphor for nervous system overwhelm.
The second objective is accomplished through capacity building. Capacity Building encompasses different disciplines and practices with the capability to support us in expanding our capacity for stress. In this scenario, we are attempting to replace the full glass with something more dynamic that can handle a high load without overflowing, perhaps like a balloon that can expand and adjust to hold a higher volume of liquid as a metaphor for a dynamic, regulated, and resilient nervous system.
In Capacity Building, each individual is invited to identify their unique boundaries between states of resourcefulness and states of overwhelm and is then guided to employ practices designed to grow their resourceful states beyond those boundaries.
We identify our individual boundaries through two key processes:
Body awareness and attunement
Body awareness and attunement is the foundational principle of all somatic healing models; our nervous systems often respond to environmental cues before and often without cognitive processing. This is referred to as “neuroception” which describes the way the autonomic nervous system takes in information without involving the thinking parts of the brain. Just as our lived experiences impact and inform our individual perceptions, they also impact and inform our neuroception which explains our unique individual responses to different conditions.
Through body awareness and attunement, we are able to identify the precursors to states of overwhelm and take action to improve our chances of staying resourced and avoiding overwhelm. This is accomplished through series of body-based practices designed to strengthen and deepen our sensory connection with our bodies. Click here to listen to my free body presence meditation.
While body awareness and attunement provide a sensory landscape of our nervous systems, trigger-mapping helps us anticipate, plan for, and overcome conditions that are most likely to cause anxiety, stress, and overwhelm. By mapping out our unique emotional triggers, we are able to more easily identify the boundaries of our regulated nervous system and work towards expanding our comfort zone beyond those boundaries.
This process of expansion involves series of somatic and mindfulness practices designed to support each individual to gently, mindfully, and methodically expand their states of resourcefulness beyond these boundaries and “work their edge”.
It is important to point out that this process is not about “pushing through”, “toughing it out”, or “crushing your comfort zone” which are hallmarks of intensive training models from the military to the NFL and CrossFit with often long-lasting negative emotional and physical consequences. Sustainable resilience isn’t a race or competition but rather a patiently and mindfully facilitated process to encourage states of safety beyond the bounds of our individual default comfort states.
As our society, economy, and environment undergo rapid and unpredictable changes, we will all continue to face challenging circumstances to test our resilience; those who adjust most rapidly and most effectively will be able the ones best equipped to survive, thrive, lead, and inspire.
As a famous paraphrased quote by Charles Darwin reads: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives, but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. Applying this theoretical concept to us as individuals, we can state that the civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself.”
The individual and collective anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that many of us are experiencing today are the alarm bells alerting us of the critical and fundamental importance of designing, developing, delivering, and integrating resilience training into every aspect of our personal, interpersonal, and societal structures to support life itself.