The week before last was a really hard one. On top of a very busy week with work and some challenging situations with clients, I found out a friend had passed away and someone else who’s like a father figure to me is declining fast with dementia and probably only has a few months left. By the end of the week, I was fried. I could feel how much I’d pushed my nervous system through to just make it to the weekend and how badly my nervous system needed some space and time to release and come back to a calm, balanced state.
I decided to plan a 2-day nervous system reset over the weekend, and it worked wonders. By the end of the two days, I felt calm, I had more energy reserves, and I had a more balanced perspective on all of the things going on in my life.
I want to share what I did over the course of 2 days to let my nervous system heal and reset. I share this with you knowing that I have a lot of privilege and not everyone can implement these strategies like I did, but I’ll share them in the hopes that you can make a version of this work for you.
Here’s what I did over two days to reset and heal my nervous system.
- Sleep-Centric Day 1: Day 1 was all about sleep. I let myself nap as much as I needed to. I woke up on Saturday around 7:30am, napped from 9-10am, napped from 2-3:30pm, napped from 5-6pm and then went to bed at 10:30pm.
- Meditation-Centric Day 2: Day 2 was all about meditation. I picked one meditation that I love and that feels relaxing and I did it on repeat throughout the day. I woke up and meditated before I even got out of bed. About 2 hours later I did it again. Throughout the rest of the day I meditated whenever it crossed my mind, probably 6 or 7 times throughout the day. I then did it one more time in bed before I went to sleep. Here’s the one I chose: https://youtu.be/XHvtIcaD194?si=FZCS60wAXA6p277b (I do love me some TNH!)
- Digital detox: I put all devices on do not disturb and only checked them once or twice a day. I also avoided TV or other entertainment media. I know that “relaxing” by scrolling social media is actually anything but relaxing for my nervous system. Social media and most entertainment programming are designed to interact with our brains and bodies to activate us and release dopamine and other activating neurotransmitters. I could also tell that I needed a break from communication –every time my phone chimed with a text or email, I could feel the overwhelm rise up in my body. My emotional cup was totally full and even friendly messages felt like too much for me. So, my phone went on DND and got stowed in a drawer so I couldn’t see the screen. If I did see a message, I asked myself if it was something that absolutely couldn’t wait 2 days for a reply. If it was something that did need a reply, I gave myself permission to write as simple and short of a reply as I could, even telling a few people I’d get back to them after the weekend.
- Engage in Joyful Activities: I only did activities that felt good to me. On day one, I did some laundry and picked up around the house a bit. On day two, I walked to the market to get ingredients for one of my favorite things to cook and took my dog to the park. If the thought of doing the activity caused me any feelings of stress or “should” then I didn’t do it, knowing that it would get done at some point, just not now. In between napping, meditating, and doing these few things I mostly read and listened to music, making sure to pick things that felt calming and joyful. Basically, I asked myself, “will this contribute to my peace, cam and joy?” and if the answer wasn’t a whole body “hell yes!”, then it was a no.
- Easy-to-Digest Diet: I ate one easy-to-digest food for the whole time. Digestion takes a ton of energy and our nervous systems are interwoven into our digestive systems. I wanted to make things as easy as possible for my body, so I bought a big bag of organic yellow potatoes and ate boiled potatoes with salt and butter for the whole first day and until dinner the second day, when I made one of my favorite nourishing meals. I also made a point of drinking lots of water throughout the day. This step isn’t for everyone – I tend to have a small appetite and it feels good to do this every now and again, but if this feels like it would be a stressor on your body, don’t do it! Trust your intuition on this one.
Our bodies inherently seek equilibrium, but occasionally we must intentionally afford them the recovery time. This 2-day plan will give your body the space, time and care it needs to do just that. If you decide to try it, I’d love to know your experience!
If you appear to be highly functional and have your shit together, but suffer with chronic symptoms, this post is for you. Let’s talk about the connection between your type of stress response and your illness.
In the world of chronic illness, there’s a peculiar irony that it tends to strike the ones who appear to ‘have it all together.’ If you’re that high achiever who seemingly juggles work, family, and life with remarkable grace, yet secretly battles chronic symptoms behind the scenes, then you’re not alone.
What does this curious link between chronic illness and the ‘freeze’ or ‘appease’ stress responses look like? Picture this: under the ‘freeze’ stress response, you might be grappling with decision paralysis or fatigue, all while keeping a brave face, ensuring the world sees you as the competent, composed individual you’ve always been.
Meanwhile, the ‘appease’ response has you bending over backward to maintain peace, potentially neglecting your health in the process. Perhaps you’re the CEO constantly overworking to please stakeholders or the parent forsaking personal health to cater to family needs. Sound familiar?
It’s not a coincidence that the same people often labeled as ‘overachievers,’ also wrestle with perfectionism and the ever-looming cloud of imposter syndrome. Striving for the impeccable and fearing exposure, you exist in a perpetual state of stress. This relentless cycle amplifies your vulnerability to chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, Lyme disease, mold illness, or long Covid.
Here’s the catch though: the very resilience and determination that bring you success also serve as your barriers to healing. You’re caught in the paradox of ‘functional suffering,’ always pushing through the pain, disregarding your needs, and internalizing the belief that you don’t deserve to rest.
One of the key pieces to healing chronic illness is using practices that create a baseline experience state of love and safety. Imagine feeling that the world and people in it are safe, ready to support you in whatever way you need, and are waiting to tell you how proud they are of not only your achievements, but who you are as a human being.
One of the best ways to start doing this is through mindfulness and meditation. These tools help you stay present, recognize and challenge destructive thought patterns, and soothe physical and mental stress. Together, they’re your secret weapons to foster an environment of safety, acceptance, and love, ultimately setting the stage for healing.
So, dear high achiever, if you’re open-minded and believe in the mind-body connection, give mindfulness and meditation a shot. Don’t let your chronic symptoms be the plot twist in your success story. Instead, let your healing journey be the empowering sequel where you redefine success, not just in terms of achievements, but also personal well-being and self-love.
Living with a chronic illness can be a daily challenge. But what if there were a way to ease some of this burden from within ourselves? Well, buckle up, because we’re about to dive into the world of meditation and how it can help you manage your chronic illness by shifting the function of both your immune and nervous system.
Meditation is a diverse practice, with various techniques that all aim to integrate the mind and body, cultivating a state of deep relaxation and mental tranquility. These techniques might include focusing on particular sensations, such as the breath, a sound, a visual image, or a mantra. The ultimate goal is to enhance both physical and emotional well-being.
The benefits of meditation extend beyond a sense of calm and balance. Interestingly, meditation can also influence the neuroimmune system, our body’s intricate network that integrates neural, hormonal, and immune communication. Meditation is thought to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure during times of stress. By reducing the stress response, meditation initiates beneficial effects throughout the body.
Research has found that mindfulness meditation affects two different stress pathways in the brain, changing brain structures and activity in regions associated with attention and emotion regulation. There’s also preliminary evidence suggesting that mindfulness could boost the immune system, potentially aiding in faster recovery from illnesses like the common cold or flu.
But how does this apply to chronic diseases? Well, meditation has been shown to help manage symptoms of conditions such as anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome.
A 2018 analysis supported by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) found that mindfulness meditation approaches were effective in managing anxiety, stress, and depression. Furthermore, meditation can strengthen the immune response, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep – critical components of self-care when managing a chronic illness. Mindfulness has also been shown to alleviate symptoms such as pain and fatigue in individuals with chronic pain conditions.
In fact, a research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation was beneficial in relieving anxiety, pain, and depression, with its effect on depression being roughly equivalent to an antidepressant.
Although almost all types of meditation will be beneficial, if you’re looking to try a meditation that’s specifically for healing, I have one here that you’re welcome to try and see how it feels: Heal Your Health Issue Meditation by Megan Caper
So, there you have it – meditation might just be the key to unlocking a healthier, happier you and is a powerful tool for those managing chronic illnesses. And the best part? You don’t need any fancy equipment or expensive classes to get started – all you need is a quiet space, a few minutes of your time, and an open mind.
Feeling disconnected and unmoored is one of the most insidious aftereffects of trauma. Whether it’s 2+ years of pandemic isolation or the result of a childhood in an emotionally detached family, feeling disconnected and alone is such a common experience.
I know that personally it’s been a lifelong work in progress to feel the support and care around me after growing up in a family that was emotionally disconnected and spiteful. Even with good friends, loving partners, a solid found family and a community around me, that feeling of disconnection or like I’m going to have the rug pulled out from under me can come on at any moment.
A few years ago, I was meditating through this feeling and I felt myself sink into a warm, soft energetic embrace. There was a feeling of calm and safety, and in that moment, I knew everything was alright.
And it was. In that moment, as with most moments of my life, I was safe. But I usually can’t access that feeling.
The problem arises when my brain reverts to a pattern of hypervigilance and anticipation – after experiencing so many moments where I had to look out for emotional or physical danger, my brain and body have been trained to be prepared. And that state of hypervigilant preparation certainly does not feel like calm and safety, and it doesn’t feel like everything is going to be alright.
But in meditation, I can drop the worry and sink into the moment of what I’m doing – being still, observing my body and mind, in a place and time of my own creation, which is free from any potential threats.
There’s a form of meditation called Settling the Mind in its Natural State where “the activities of the mind gradually subside so that the mind comes to settle in its ‘natural state,’ which manifests three core qualities: bliss, luminosity, and non-conceptuality.” I would add the word “connection” to that list of effects because in that state I found the connection I was looking for. It wasn’t dependent on a particular person or circumstance, but was already a part of who I am. Since my “natural state” is being connected to universal consciousness, I am always connected to the one consciousness that runs through all of us.
In those moments of meditation, that connection becomes real, and (if I meditate daily) it becomes a part of my daily reality, as well. As a result, my nervous system changes, my brain rewires, and eventually my experience of being connected and safe become the baseline instead of something I have to strive for.
I still experience those post-traumatic moments of disconnection at times, but having a meditation practice where I know I can bring myself back to that natural state of bliss and connection at any moment has been such an important part of my healing.
If this practice of feeling connected, safe and cared for sounds like something that you’d like to learn, then I’d love to invite you to join my group program Unconventional Tools for Healing starting April 25. It’s one of the many tools I teach in the class to help you cultivate the emotional balance that we all crave.
See you there!
One of the most challenging things on my path of spiritual awakening is figuring out how to reconcile my awareness of who I really am, an eternal source of energy from a place of pure acceptance and love, with the reality of my human-ness and its associated capacity for physical and emotional discomfort, pain and suffering. How can I exist as a being who is made of and comes from pure love, and at the same time feel abandoned, hurt or undeserving?
It’s quite a paradox.
I was speaking with someone about my NDE the other day, and said, “Well, it isn’t like after I saw where we go after we die and who I really am, I then went to meditate on a mountaintop as an enlightened being for the next 60 years until I died. I came back to anxiety, depression, and the pain from chemo.”
And that’s the conundrum, right? Even if we’ve had profound personal spiritual experiences, it’s not like we then spend the rest of our days in some blissed-out zen state of equanimity and joy. We’re still having the same human experience as always, only now, we have an expanded awareness of our true spiritual self. Ram Dass called this the process of waking up and falling asleep again, over and over.
So, what’s the answer? How do we balance being a human being and a spiritual being at the same time?
What’s the way forward?
I don’t claim to have all the answers to this question, I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but here are a few things I think are important.
The first is to sit with the paradox. There’s a quote I love by Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other: ‘The world was created for me.’ You are both a speck of dust, having a transient human experience AND the force of universal consciousness that has created this entire universe. So, don’t take yourself or your life too seriously and at the same time, take yourself incredibly seriously because you are the be-all and end-all of existence.
The second is that the awareness of these two aspects of ourselves, human and spirit, leads to the ability to have each one inform the other. As a result, I no longer feel like I am doing this human thing without any kind of guidebook or plan. Having access to the part of me that is eternal and all-knowing means that I can ask it for help and guidance. There are many ways to do this, but I primarily use intuition, emotional resonance, and meditation. Intuition usually takes the form of a strong push or pull or sometimes a direct message in the form of a thought that occurs to me over and over like, “you should ask your friend for help with your business” (even if that friend knows nothing about my biz). Emotional resonance is the experience of a pull towards something (excitement, inspiration, curiosity) or away from something (not wanting to do it, feeling apprehensive, feeling like I “should” instead of that I want to) and I have learned to listen more closely to these messages. Meditation is something that I’ve been doing for years, and now that I can reach a place of stillness and expand out past my ego, I often get direct messages from source about myself and my life while in that state.
Lastly, we are here learning, and the lessons are supposed to be hard sometimes and easy at other times. One of the things I saw clearly from the other side was that before we incarnate, we get almost giddy at the idea of being able to be in a human body for a while. And it’s not just the things that you and I would think to be excited about, like puppies and love and chocolate, it’s also heartbreak and disappointment and grief. Weird, right? But it was so clear to me that the ability to experience emotions at all was so novel that we look forward to all of it: the good, the bad and the ugly. So, when I’m going through something tough, I try to remember that this is like a trip to Costa Rica — even if I may have just fallen and skinned my knee in the jungle, I don’t get to be in Costa Rica forever and even the bad experiences are part and parcel of this once in a lifetime “trip”.
I’d love to know what are some of the ways you balance the paradox of knowing your eternal nature with the messiness of being human?
If you’ve tried mindfulness meditation and haven’t been able to stick with it, I think I may know why.
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing our attention on one stimulus (like our breath or a mantra) and being mindful of any thoughts or other sensations that may take our attention and focus away. The practice is to notice when our mind wanders, and gently bring our focus back to our breath or the mantra again. This practice can be especially challenging for people with CPTSD because many people with a history of complex trauma think and process emotions differently. Here are two main reasons why it’s hard and what you can do to help fix these issues.
Why is it so damn hard?
- A heightened inner critic voice. For many of us that lived through complex trauma, especially emotional abuse, have internalized the voice of our abuser as our own inner narrative. This can lead to frequent thoughts like, “I’m not good at anything” or “There’s something wrong with me, I can’t do this.”
This can make it challenging when thoughts or distractions come up in mindfulness meditation (and they do come up for EVERYONE, even Buddhist monks!) because instead of being able to just let the thought go, we criticize ourselves for “doing it wrong” or “being a failure” for having the thoughts at all.
- Hypervigilance/over planning. In order to survive as children in adverse circumstances, whether that danger was physical or emotional, we became EXCELLENT noticers and planners.
The ability to be tuned in and notice the environment, people’s moods, and read the room was a smart survival strategy when we were in the midst of an ongoing dangerous situation. Oftentimes, we were able to avoid or lessen the abuse if we could read the people around us and preemptively make adjustments to our behavior or the situation and avoid triggering the abuser.
Another strategy that kept us safe and protected to plan for multiple outcomes. Are you someone who thinks of everything that could go awry in any upcoming situation and has not only a plan A, but also a plan B, plan C, and plan D? Then you are an over-planner. Over planning can also look like mentally rehearsing upcoming challenging conversations over and over, or planning every last detail of an event so that there will be as few surprises as possible.
Hypervigilance and overplanning interfere with mindfulness meditation because it makes it especially hard to turn our brains off. Given any moment of downtime, our brains will fill it up with noticing and planning. So as soon as we try to meditate, here comes the tidal wave of thoughts, planning and noticing.
What can you do to fix this?
- Self-Compassion. Cultivating a self-compassionate voice in your head to counter the inner critic is vital for those with CPTSD. I call mine my “inner caregiver” and she does two things when the inner critic comes up. The first is to speak to me with patience, kindness, love and respect instead of criticism. The second is that she tells the inner critic off by saying something like, “Hey! This is our girl. You do NOT get to talk to her like that. She is a gem and we will treat her with the utmost respect and kindness.”
During meditation, this would look like responding to the inner critic’s thoughts with something like, “Oh no, you don’t get to criticize me like that. You know what? I’m just learning this. So it’s okay for me to not be good at it yet, that’s what learning is for!” If it helps to picture a particular character when you are cultivating that voice, that’s fine! My inner caregiver sounds like Carol Kane and one of my clients says Eugene Levy comes when she needs this type of mental TLC.
- Name the type of thought. Another powerful tool when hypervigilance and over planning starts is to name the type of thought. For example, if I find myself rehearsing a challenging conversation I need to have, I’ll stop and think “planning” and then gently come back to my breath. If I’m worried about something in the future, I’ll think, “worrying” and return to paying attention to my breathing. Once I name the type of thought I often combine it with my inner caregiver voice and say something like, “Thank you, brain, for helping me with planning, but that’s not what I’m doing right now. I love you and I’m going to go back to my breath.”
Mindfulness meditation has been one of my favorite tools for healing from CPTSD, but there is a steep learning curve, especially for those who have experienced complex trauma. It took me years to get to the point I’m at today, but now I can’t imagine not meditating each day. I look forward to it as one of the best stress relief tools I have in my toolbox.
If you have struggled with mindfulness meditation in the past, I hope you’ll give these two fixes a try. And let me know how it goes for you!