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Restoring Balance to Our Brain and Nervous System

Neuroscience tells us that the nervous system -- made up of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves -- is the body's most vital system. It controls every cell, tissue, organ, and bodily system. The nervous system manages everything we do, including breathing, walking, moving, thinking, and feeling. It communicates with the immune system, and helps us adapt and respond to our ever-changing environment.

Constant stress interferes with our nervous system's balance and causes it to over-function or under-function. Learning to notice, support, help regulate, relax and balance our own nervous system helps us operate from an optimal place of physical and emotional strength and resilience. When we help our mind and body reset and shift out of the stress response, we are powerfully activating the part of the brain that helps us think more clearly, stay focused, make wiser decisions, be creative, manage emotional reactions, and be more empathetic -- so that overall we can feel better, feel more relaxed and centered, and be our best self.

How we choose to respond to life's stressful experiences dramatically impacts how we experience life.  When we experience stress, our survival brain (which alerts us to danger and threat), sends a message to our nervous system and our muscles to prepare to fight or take flight. So we enter what's called a High Zone (adapted from the Community Resiliency Model/Trauma Resource Institute). In the High Zone, we may experience anxiety, panic, edginess, irritability, angry outbursts, reactivity, or worry. We may notice tension in our shoulders, shortness or breath, or a pounding heart. This is all normal, and is a useful strategy when we are trying to take action and remove ourselves from a threatening or dangerous situation.


But it's not good for us if we stay stuck in the High Zone for a prolonged period of time. When this happens, our brain and body are constantly attentive to the threat of danger, and we no longer have access to a restful, relaxed state in our body, nor do we have access to the part of our brain that allows us to experience empathy, problem-solving, planning, decision-making, and emotion regulation.

Alternatively, instead of the High Zone, we may fall into and stay stuck in the Low Zone, (an immobile "freeze" state), where we experience numbness, exhaustion, disconnection, depression, sadness, or isolation. We may also experience shifts back and forth between the High and Low Zones. Either way, our system and natural rhythms are out of balance and we don't feel like our best self. If we use the energy from the High Zone to our advantage to be an effective force for change, we can find many ways to come back into balance and be in the center:  the Resilient Zone. Here we can manage the stresses of life better, experience life more fully, make better decisions for ourselves and our loved ones, feel more nourishment and healing, and experience greater calm and peacefulness.

There are many ways to enter the Resilient Zone, or balanced zone. First, you can begin to practice noticing where you are. Are you currently in the High Zone or the Low Zone? Are you having trouble sleeping, or are you anxious much of the time? This may take some time, but with practice you can get better at knowing where you are at in each moment. There are numerous ways to help our brain and our nervous system come back into a state of balance and relaxation. Combining any of these simple relaxation tools with a sense of agency, choice and ownership of the journey can help us be resilient in times of uncertainty and adversity.

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Resources to Ease Stress

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