When your nervous system gets dysregulated, how do you discern whether these uncomfortable feelings are a premonition vs. your body communicating some of its needs?
It was a cold Winter night in Denver, Colorado, and I couldn’t sleep. I would doze off and then wake suddenly with adrenaline surging through my body.
No, I hadn’t had sugar or caffeine before bed. No, I hadn’t been up late watching thrillers or action flicks.
What the heck was going on?
I felt frustrated with my body and nervous system. “Just let me sleep! Damnit!”
I had been sleeping beautifully for several months, but my body was humming with frenetic energy that night. So, I got out of bed, went downstairs, and danced wildly around the living room, wiggling and shaking off the adrenalized energy in my body. Then I curled up on the couch. I took deep breaths, placed a hand on my heart, and reminded myself, “Nothing bad is happening. You are safe. You are ok.”
At 3 am, in a state of exhaustion, I was finally able to doze off.
The next morning, 20 miles north of where we were in Denver, a massive fire began in Boulder County.
Heartbroken and in disbelief, my partner and I watched the news.
We had been living in Boulder for the last two months, but just the day before, we had left Boulder to spend time with family in Denver.
The Marshall fire turned out to be Colorado’s most destructive fire ever. Bolstered by hurricane-force winds, it ravaged thousands of homes and buildings in a matter of hours.
While watching the news, I noticed a strange and deep appreciation swelling in my heart for my body and nervous system. Of course, I couldn’t sleep! My body knew what was coming.
Studies have shown that the human heart reacts to things before they even happen. In these studies, heart rate monitors consistently showed that the participant’s heart rate would increase before being shown a disturbing or scary image.
Our bodies are wise and respond to things BEFORE they happen.
As a highly sensitive human, I am keenly aware of and impacted by my body’s signs and signals. And honestly, I can get annoyed by how “trigger-happy” my body and nervous system can be. In my annoyance, I find myself dismissing or stuffing these uncomfortable signals.
I just wish these signs and signals weren’t so damn uncomfortable! ;)
But let’s be honest, if these body signs were comfortable or even pleasant, would we even notice them? Our intelligent body needs to get out attention… and it knows that there is nothing quite like insomnia, constant jittery feelings, or anxiety to get our attention.
Instead of being annoyed… What would happen if I regularly appreciated my intelligent nervous system? What would happen if I took the time to try to listen to its messages?
I wonder if my nervous system wouldn’t need to react so dramatically to a fire 20 miles away if I cultivated more of a relationship with its signs and signals?
Since that experience, when I feel sudden or random nervous system dysregulation, I take deep breaths. Then, with as much genuine curiosity and non-judgment as I can muster, I compassionately ask my body, “What are you trying to tell me right now? What do you need?”
Sometimes the message that comes is more about self-awareness and self-care, “You ate too much sugar” or “You watched too many episodes of that creepy cult documentary tonight.” In these instances, my nervous system is responding to something I did, or did not do, to take care of myself.
And, sometimes, the message that comes is more of a premonition… I sense a voice deep inside of me saying, “Something is wrong. Something bad is coming. Stay alert.”
It is not always easy to discern the two. But this is a muscle I am growing through regular appreciation and listening to my body.
The next time you feel your nervous system starting to get dysregulated, I invite you to slow down and compassionately ask your wise nervous system and body, “What are you trying to tell me right now?”