EVEN IF THIS YEAR is ushering in change in the right direction, the residue of last year’s stress can contribute to burnout, erratic and unpredictable emotions, or just feeling numb. Carrying unmetabolized stress around as we are facing life’s new stressors is like carrying a bag of rocks up a mountain—it makes an already challenging journey even harder.
We need stress in order to grow and thrive. Challenges that we can overcome can be a source of learning and growth. We might even enjoy the journey up the mountain, take in the views, and get stronger as a result—if we’re not lugging around that bag of rocks.
If we don’t release the energy of past stress and trauma from the nervous system, we become dysregulated— anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, or shut down. Our responses can be out of proportion to the event. We can find ourselves overreacting or underreacting to situations. This can then create more stress for us.
Carrying the pain from the past is not helpful; carrying the wisdom gleaned from that pain, however, is.
In comparison, when we are self-regulated, we are grounded, centered, and in present time. We are able to deal with life’s challenges, ask for support when we need it, and have a sense that even if things are hard, we can cope. When we are self-regulated, we respond appropriately to external stimuli, mobilizing to take action when needed and settling and remaining relaxed when appropriate.
No one was spared the fear and anxiety that a global pandemic brings. That makes it more important than ever to work towards self-regulation.
Here is an example from my own life.
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