Refresher for those of us who haven’t taken biology in a while:
The nervous system is the command center for your thoughts, actions and responses. It’s how your brain communicates with your body—and vice versa.It really works like a communication network running through the body. Picture the messages flowing through like energy through your system or shooting pings and instructions like all the text and slack and email alerts you get.
The foundational obsession of the nervous system: Safety.
When all is well, the energy flow and messages are all pretty even.
This steady state or baseline is optimal. You can go about your day, be creative, deal with issues, do your work, have fun.
But under threat—which means under stress—your system goes into survival mode aka overdrive.
Midlife women often have too-packed schedules, constant stressors and obligations, and not enough downtime, Hello, overdrive. Add a life of constant digital stimulation from pings to blue light.
Many of us live in a state in which an overtaxed nervous system is now normal. The baseline of where we are throughout the day may have ramped up to higher RPMs than nature intended.
It’s normal to you, but it may be blowing our your adrenals, cranking out cortisol and far more “normal.”
But before we get to that, let’s talk about what we mean by overdrive:
For some this veers toward fight (may we introduce Un-Anger tincture?).
For others, flight.
Your system is in overdrive. Amped up way above your baseline. You may feel flooded with heat, your heart may elevate, you may get jitters, feel butterflies in your stomach, get fidgety.
And if you can’t do anything about the issue in the moment or can’t even get up and walk the room or shake it out of your body, that energy loop will stay in your body longer, keying you up.
CLUE IN: The next time you are feeling stressed, try to tune out of your thoughts and into the sensations of your body. Where do you feel it? What is your body telling you? Does your breathing change in anticipation of a stressful event? Do you hold your breath? Clench your jaw? Feel your heart speed up? Get a pit in your stomach? Jot it down and learn more about your nervous system and what your body tells in you different situations.
Hello, ‘freeze” state.
Your nervous system can give you a mental freeze, too. It’s not just standing like a statue behind a cave.
Are you feel dread? Heavy? Is the energy draining from your body? Just want to hide away? Can’t really think or operate very clearly like you’re underwater?
And it’s one of the reasons we created Burnout Relief.
When our bodies are over-activated, the nervous system also tells your brain to change.
Your more conscious, problem-solving, creative and “rational” thinking may be short circuited a bit.
All the energy is going into survival mode and survival brain - sometimes called the monkey mind or the reptile brain. It’s a more blunt instrument, with less nuance.
The 90-Second Rule
The nervous system is here to jolt you into that survival action.
So when you are triggered, there is 30-90 second surge of biochemicals and electricity that lights up your brain and body. It’s here that your survival brain and your conscious mind are integrating the information.
In other words, this is the “react” zone.
If you can breathe through this 90 seconds, pause before you say or do anything, and bring that overdrive back into balance, your mind, body and life will thank you for it.
Anyone else ever blurt out something they regret in those first 90? No judgment.
Hyper-vigilance (and why it can affect women more)
Our nervous systems are all wired a bit individually. It’s a combination of the wiring you were born with and the pathways and residue of past experience.
Some of us are activated quickly. This is often aligned with a state called hyper-vigilance, when our systems become very sharply focused on detecting any perceived threats.
Another way of framing it? Highly attuned.
Another note: “perceived” is not always reality-based.
Fascinating fact: Researchers believe the female brain picks up on up to 40% more non-verbal information than the male brain. If you’ve ever wondered why the man in the room isn’t getting the signals in the meeting, the energy or the conversation, they actually may NOT be receiving the messages!
More hyper-vigilance was built into women as truly a survival mechanism, to keep us from harm. That may be the feeling you get walking on a city street at night or back when we had to tended clans and tribes and had to identify possible invaders on the horizon. We’ve had to act early and fast due to less physical strength, cultural threat and communal responsibility.
That attunement is also part of our famed female intuition and empathy. Attunement is not all bad, nor all beneficial.
This attunement or vigilance is very commonly developed as a trauma response, even if you weren’t “born with it.” Some of those traumas are big ones, always best shared with therapists and professional help. Others are the day-to-day wear and tear of particularly painful living, be it a highly critical relationship, scarcity of resources, and so much more.
Whatever those daily trials may be, it’s important to know that when your brain and body don’t feel safe, regardless of why, you will shift in body and mind into survival response. Aka “triggered.”
Past trauma, danger and abuse can all leave us with hyper-vigilance long after our life circumstances have changed. Don’t blame yourself for this, it’s just your body trying to protect and care for you.
What Happens with an Over-activated Nervous System
Living like this can tax your adrenals and your thyroid, which can lead to a host of issues. But here are some signs your nervous system may be on overdrive.
It can show up physiologically:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Poor digestion
It can show up emotionally:
And in those places that are both;
- Heart palpitations
- Eventual, burnout
And no surprise - energy drinks, lots of caffeine and other stimulants we use to keep us going to through this high-stress intensive period zoom up our nervous systems even more. Overdrive on overdrive. Hence, Tranq Dranq or Drinking Your Feelings to bring it down and interrupt the cycles!
What You Can Do
Learn your system
There’s no “good” or “bad” nervous system, but you can help to tune into it and regulate it. Get Aware.
Learn about your baseline(s)
Take a few deep breaths, take a walk in nature or just clue into your body at your most “you” time of day. How do you feel in your body? In your energy? In your mind. This is your ideal baseline, a place you want to spend as much time in as you can.
For many of us, our baseline has raised up several notches with everyday living.
You can jot down how you feel at the typical rhythm points of your routine over a few days and find the patterns. Where are you in the morning? Before kid pickup? After dinner? Identifying your most activated times of day, times of week and other situations (like activating people) can help you proactively self-regulate.
You’ll also see how to best work with your energy. When is the best time to plan more creative or challenging work?
Learn about your triggers
As mentioned earlier in this piece, cluing into how certain triggers activate you is great information. Again, jot down trigger times, circumstances and the responses in your body first and maybe your thoughts second. Over a week or two, you’ll find patterns that can make a difference.
Remember the 90 second rule: calm your nervous system
Remember your body gets flooded by biochemicals and electrical signals for about 90 seconds when you get triggered by a new stressor.
Breathe through it and let your higher (that is, conscious) mind those 90 seconds to take the wheel. And CHOOSE to respond not react.
Add a dropper or two of our Un-Worry or Un-Anger tincture, depending where your nervous system or the trigger likes to take you.
Other practices can help center your system in that 90 second jolt period:
- A few deep breaths (meditation of course, but even a few deep diaphragmatic breathes help).
- Getting up and physically shaking out the limbs and body.
- Add a yell or vocalization if you want to hum it out.
- A quick body scans - how are my hips? Stomach? Breathing? Heart? Throat? Temp? Head? What am I hearing? Seeing?
- Bend over, touch your toes, breathe - maybe rocking in “rag doll” pose
- Visualize a calming place and sensation. I picture floating on my back in a lake surrounded by evergreen-covered hills. Find your own mental happy place.
Welcome to the Nervines:
Supplements for Your Nervous System
The advantage of working with a naturopathic physician to formulate the Wile line is we have herbs called nervines built in.
They are not new to the naturopathic space but are less common in the everyday wellness space.
These herbs help the nervous system stay more regulated, keeping the adrenals in a healthier zone and preventing depletion and the “?!??!!?” of the overdriving world we live in.
Nervine are a critical part of our daily Wile Hormonal Wellness capsule, and work with the adaptogens and phytoestrogens to keep the whole of your system more regulated and at healthier baseline for midlife living.
Take care of your nervous system! It is working hard to take care of you. With the right awareness and support, you can be a more steady zone of self-regulation. Your happiness, functioning, mood and body—as well as those around you—will thank you for it.
Martin Adams, Unsplash
Benjamin Combs, Unsplash
This article is intended for informational purposes and is not intended to replace a one-on-one medical consultation with a professional. Wile, Inc researches and shares information and advice from our own research and advisors. We encourage every woman to research, ask questions and speak to a trusted health care professional to make her own best decisions.