Letting my “to be” list be bigger then my “to do” list.

Living on 14 acres in the Pacific Northwest, with two years in a row of intense smoke, turned things upside down for me this summer.  I live in a place with more trees than humans., wild rivers, idyllic summers, flower gardens and salmon returning to the streams. This place and space tell me “all is okay in the world” and there is hope for the next generation. I really thought there was very little to impact my sense of well-being in the world. I remember reading that in Beijing, a company was selling bottled fresh air from our area of the world.  While totally bizarre and quite sad, I thought “sure why not, our air is like nothing else!”

And yet, in the last few weeks, even though the fires were far away from my land, I lived in a red alert state of poor air quality.  The health of everyone in the Pacific NW, from BC all the way down through Oregon, was affected by the smoke. For some this reverberated in immediate health concerns, but for a wider population deeper concerns seemed to be generated about the effects of Global Warming and concerns of summers to come and what might become the “new norm.”

These concerns, certainly valid, are related to short-term health but also provoke a deeper sense of foreboding in our nervous systems which evokes stress and the potential for shock. Neuro-Scientist, Dr Stephanie Mines, says shock occurs when resources are non-existent, insufficient, or impossible to access.  I heard many people communicate a sense of helplessness that there was not much they could do about the fires aside from closing them selves behind windows and doors, wearing a mask outside or tolerating a scratchy throat, tight chest and sometimes winded breath. Our very basic health need for clean air to survive was threatened. Certainly, in our rational minds, we can say, the fires will go away when the weather changes. But also, some predictions are that this might be our new norm and so in our sub-conscious other levels of stress can exist beyond our awareness.

Cultivating an embodied witness, in how we respond to the effects of stress or longer term shock can be a first step towards tending our nervous systems and building resiliency no matter what happens. Perhaps you can notice, if reading the above, you have a bodily response. Is there tension in your shoulders? Compression in your chest?  Or the opposite of consciously noticing, cutting off sensation, which can lead to disassociation or numbness on a physical and emotional level. Or perhaps your response is completely different to any of these. What’s important is that you can observe your physical and emotional state in relation to stress. This lets us see how vital sustainable practices are to increase resiliency, in stressful situations, that are beyond our control. Buoyancy in our nervous systems is key towards our ever-changing world and sustainable health.

To allow ourselves to consciously feel physical stress and address emotional challenges is a mature response. A cultivated witness, in ourselves, can then acknowledge “what is” and then resource ourselves to make allowances and inhabit self-care practices that fill our well of well-being.

When our well-being “well” is full, we are more capable of being resilient in times of stress. It lets us have perspective and perhaps recognize when we enter shock because of a car accident, death in the family, or ecological crises such as lack of clean air. When the “well is full” we able to return to our centre and find ground.  This lets our nervous system know that the immediate emergency is over. That we don’t have to be on high alert.

Here are my top five practices for keeping my “well full” (I increase the frequency of these practices even more after a stressful event has happened) as they let my overall system return to a more relaxed and para-sympathetic state.

~Moving meditation or conscious dance helps me become aware of my current state of being and offers movement tools and resources to shift difficult feelings and states of being.

~Massage – One of the key benefits of massage is that it shifts us into our parasympathetic nervous system.  When we do this, we train our bodies and psyches to be buoyant and adaptable from responding to stress and returning to complete relaxation.  This helps us avoid the frozen nature of trauma.
~Time in the natural world. The greatest reminder that everything is connected, there is something bigger than me at work and nature moves in cycles.
~Letting my “to be” list be bigger than my “to do” list.   Exhaling. Watching a sunset, the rainfall, or listening to the quiet.

~Reach out, ask for help, have a support team and community that can come together in challenging times and in celebration of the good.

Chronic stress can disrupt nearly every system in your body: from suppressing your immune system, upsetting your digestive and reproductive systems, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the ageing process. It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

In our ever-changing world, chronic stress could become our new norm. Sustainable health needs to become a priority. Sustainable health inherently incorporates conscious ways of processing these stresses and develops clear practices that shift us from our sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system on a regular basis. Things may get us down or cause stress. That’s normal!  But buoyancy is truly the key to our long-term well-being.

For more information about Jenny Macke and her work with the body, soul and relieving stress visit www.jennymacke.com   Additionally Jenny will be hosting Dr. Stephanie Mines in Bellingham, Wa October 25-29. Dr Mines offers training for processing shock and trauma in the body. For details go to www.tara-approach.org