I’ve been reading up on downregulating the nervous system lately and I wanted to bring some fascinating insights from this topic. They are SO relevant to stress management for moms and help us to reduce our anxiety.
Its important to keep reading and learning, because sometimes you learn a fact that forever shifts the way you see something. In this article below, you’ll experience a shift in the way you feel (frustrated, anyone?) when your baby or small child has trouble calming down. Trust me. This is such interesting stuff. I didn’t learn this before having a newborn crying at night (and wish I had!!!)
The Nervous System:
Firstly, a quick paragraph on neuroscience. The autonomic nervous system has two parts, the sympathetic nervous system which levels us up in preparation for fight/flight/enjoyable-but-demanding-event.
The parasympathetic nervous system which helps us come down and return to calmness.
To return to calmness, two things need to happen.
The parasympathetic system ramps up and the sympathetic nervous system downregulates.
Here’s the interesting thing. It’s a use-it-or-lose-it situation. You must practice downregulating your stress response and it has to build over time to be strong, just like the gym.
We think about needing to increase our fitness all the time, right? We think “wow, the kids are getting heavy, I need to strengthen a bit.”
But when do we ever think “ooh, I really need to get back into a practice of nervous system downregulation.” Errrr… not me.
We put it off, thinking the nervous system will simply take care of it for us. Then, we find ourselves over the years or months becoming increasingly stressed, anxious, jumpy, breathing shallow and wondering why we can’t release that horrible feeling. After all, some breaths, meditations and a yoga class helped before!
It’s because this is a day in, day out thing. It’s like committing to brushing your teeth and building on that foundation.
Most of us don’t practice this day in and day out. We jump to distractors: Alcohol, shows, food, shopping, whatever we find immediately gratifying. I’m not here to judge that at all, I have no regrets and it’s what I had to do on days alone with 3 kids 😉 But the deeper work needs to be done. Learning to downregulate instead of relying on distraction.
Think about what downregulates you and returns you to calmness. That warm, pleasant, calm feeling, like when you first slip into a warm bath and let out a sigh.
Think about whether you give it the same importance. Have you lost some of that ability?
I mentioned above that I had a mindset shift, and here it is:
When babies are born, they are able to use their sympathetic nervous system and stress response. Us parents know this as fussing, crying, rolling around. More often than note our own nervous system upregulates as we get frustrated that we can’t calm them down.
Did you know that their parasympathetic system (down regulation) is not online yet? Their nervous system hasn’t got the capacity to calm down on its own. Its not even working yet. This means that babies can go up in stress, but can’t come down on their own, they rely on interaction with their caregiver and the resonance or energy that caregiver gives off.
YOU are basically your babies’ parasympathetic nervous system (stress downregulator / calmer extraordinaire)
Has your baby ever been super upset and about to lose it, you hand the baby over to your partner / friend / family member / doula and they bring a calm energy and special baby soothing magic? It is because the baby is able to downregulate using that person. Amazing hey? This is neuroscience research. This is science, with evidence.
Over time, as the baby experiences soothing, calm interactions with their caregiver, their nervous system eventually begins to map and build the ability to downregulate, but it is dependent on lots of those interactions building up and reinforcing the newly developing nervous system.
I found this absolutely fascinating and a great reminder to be patient and understanding,
a.) because it’s not their fault, it’s a nervous system thing
b.) they are relying on you to be their calm parasympathetic nervous system through your touch, voice, and energy. Their nervous system is learning from yours.
If we return to the question of “do you give importance to practices that downregulate your nervous system” it has a bit more weight to it now, doesn’t it? Babies and young children are learning to downregulate by experiencing your own.
Next time you are with an upset child or baby, don’t get frustrated – be excited that it is an opportunity to practice downregulation in you and them.
As you sit in that rocking chair, or sway side to side, take on a meditative practice and reconnect with a calm place deep in side of you as you soothe your little one. It’s not easy but it will improve over time. I’m willing to bet you’ll see an energy transfer as you cultivate the energy of calm and peace.
Make time to take care of yourself, to relax, to be present and comforting. Remember that you cannot pour (parasympathetic support!) from an empty cup.-Carina