Many of us are feeling anxious these days, whether from the threat of physical illness, economic hardship or general uncertainty over the future. How can Wellean Wisdom support us in a practical sense?
Wellean Wisdom is about connecting to our innate wisdom to support personal and collective wellbeing. There are many ways to do this. We have named seven streams that lead to the well, to the source of knowledge and healing: listening, relating, adapting, flowing, empowering, immersing and tending.
For immediate support, and as a first step, let us look specifically at listening and relating, from a neurophysiological perspective.
The latest neuroscience tells us when feeling under great stress, the first step to feeling OK is to create a feeling of safety in the body in order to regulate the nervous system.
We often do this through what is called co-regulating with others, through talking, listening, looking at each other’s faces, turning our neck and head to scan our environment.
These responses stem from our survival strategies in early life. Without going into the detailed neurophysiology now, we can just say that a few simple exercises to stimulate particular cranial nerves help to reduce anxiety, which is sometimes referred to as vagal toning.
- Orient to your environment. By slowly turning your head and taking in the room or outside space you are in, you will stimulate a cranial nerve to help you feel safe. Try slowly counting the lights in the ceiling or name the colours of the flowers in your garden.
- Talk to someone you feel comfortable with. Try talking slowly with long phrases. This helps your out-breath to be long and thus stimulates your vagal response. You can do this in-person, on the phone, or online.
- Sing. Singing has the same effect as delivering a long exhalation to slow your breath and stimulate your vagus nerve.
- Listening to the body. Scan your body. Where feels more comfortable? Where feels less comfortable? By becoming aware of how our body feels we give it more choice over how it responds. Try noticing the support of your thighs and buttocks on your seat, or the contact of your feet on the ground. The key here is just to notice without any judgement.
- Follow the breath. Inhale for 3 counts, exhale for 4. For vagal toning the exhalation should be longer than the inhale.
- Listen to the birds. By consciously listening to birds we stimulate the inner ear muscles which feeds vagal toning.
- Take time to relate to nature. Birds, bees, insects, flowers, water, earth, trees. Take time to slow down and try to connect with whatever is easily accessible in your natural environment, as if it were a close friend. Notice how it makes your body feel. Often you will feel the breath ease and deepen.
By supporting your nervous system, these simple exercises can support you and those around you to become more resilient to difficult circumstances.