Trust, Tension and Our Overworked Nervous System
Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor E. Frankl’s quote is a powerful reminder of the grace we’re capable of when we pause before responding. He wrote this from the perspective of us having more power over our mind and our subsequent behaviour than we realise. In life, finding that space, when we’re busy, tense or faced with confrontation, can be hard because of how instinctively we respond to threats, stress and pressure.
While the world around us changes dramatically from generation to generation, increasing the demands on our time and attention, our internal wiring is still prompting us to respond to the world - and it’s steady stream of pace and challenge - as though we were cavemen.
Our bodies - well designed though they are - were never meant to cope with unrelenting pressure. They are designed to keep us safe and alive and by being tapped into stress, uncertainty or pressure, we play havoc with its systems.
We have within us, a remarkable set of nervous systems, a vast and complex internal communication and control network which sends messages throughout our body to keep us alive, alert and responsive to our environment.
Within that nervous system network, is the Autonomic Nervous System - a system that controls the involuntary and subconscious actions and reactions that enable us to live without consciously thinking about every breath or heartbeat. The Autonomic Nervous System contains the two regulating systems that flip us from safety and trust to fear and mistrust.
The Sympathetic Nervous System drives our fight, freeze or flight response to fear or perceived threats while the Parasympathetic Nervous System works in tandem to drive our ‘rest, repair and digest’ functions. They work together to stimulate our system (when we need to act quickly to defend or protect ourselves) and deregulate our system (to allow us the time to recharge, repair and heal).
The difficulty comes when we find ourselves in a loop of persistent pressure that tips the healthy balance and leaves us stuck in a Sympathetic Nervous System dominance where fight, flight or freeze begins to feel normal. It means we lose the natural correcting benefits of the Parasympathetic Nervous System to correct and restore calm and order after the chaos of a stress response.
When things get out of whack with our stress levels, we can end up being dominated by our Sympathetic Nervous System. Our heart rate stays high, our breathing remains shallow and rapid, our digestive function is impaired and we find ourselves more prone to food cravings, hunger and overeating. We may even begin telling people we’re running on adrenalin – and you probably are.
And that’s the hard part – we can all learn to love the adrenalin and be hooked into the cult of busyness. But while you’re busy rushing, your Sympathetic Nervous System dominance will be reducing your tolerance, increasing your defensiveness, narrowing your view, affecting your listening and making you generally more reactive than considered.
If you recognize yourself in that description, then it’s time to hit pause and to remember that – in truth – no one is the boss of you. And that the choices you make really are impacting your world, in small ways, every single day. Now might be the time to start making choices that your future self will thank you for. And maybe it won’t just be your future self that will thank you, but your current colleagues, team, partner, family and friends.
Does this sound familiar? Would you like to reset your pace without compromising your aspirations? Or to create a more healthy pace for your team?
Click ‘Contact Us’ at the bottom of this page to get in touch.