One of the ways that we can support ourselves in maintaining mental health and wellbeing is to become the safety that we can’t find outside ourselves. The world can sometimes feel like a whirling maelstrom of chaos that throws challenges in our path and has us living on a cocktail of stress hormones if we get sucked into that storm.
And as a result our mental, emotional and physical health can become more fragile.
Safety. One of the most important, vital and necessary parts of being able to function as a human. We need physical safety, emotional safety, mental safety. If we are without safety in these fundamental areas of our life we are triggered into constant fight or flight reactions. Then we either shut down and numb out on the one hand or we become agitated and irritable on the other. Without safety we can find ourselves unable to relax, sleep or enjoy life. We struggle to be creative, productive and connect with others in meaningful, fulfilling ways. In the worst case it can lead to mental and physical illness…from Generalised Anxiety Disorder for example to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
This is all because of the way our nervous system functions. The Sympathetic Nervous System is a necessary part of our biology which keeps us safe from actual attack or danger. It helps us leap into action if there is a threat we need to escape from or hide from. It pours adrenaline into our system so that we have the heightened alertness needed to protect ourselves. But it doesn’t know the difference between real danger or perceived danger. This means that the uncertainty, chaos and challenges of our world trigger this part of our nervous system to be constantly switched on – leading to overwhelm, burn out and anxiety, which then can lead to depression and despair.
And if safety is so important…and our world feels so unsafe what do we do?
We can become the safety that is not available to us in the outside world.
We can create the environment of safety inside us. We can love, cherish, support and care for ourselves in ways that help us feel safe within ourselves, as ourselves. We can fill ourselves with so much
peaceful power, self-assurance, deep calm and
resilient energy that we become the safe place.
We can be the safest place in the world for ourselves.
As we do this we are activating the other significant aspect of our nervous system…the Parasympathetic Nervous System. This is the part that brings our system back into balance after the threat has passed. It calms our rapid breathing, slows our pounding heart, it relaxes our tense muscles and helps all the other parts of our body such as digestion and immune response to return back to normal functioning. We can feel at ease again as wellbeing floods our body.
Or at least we do if our Parasympathetic Nervous System gets chance to do its work…but that is less likely to happen if we are looking for safety outside ourselves in the challenging, overstimulating, chaotic world of constant uncertainty. Then we find our Sympathetic (fight or flight) Nervous System is running constantly. We are always then on red alert, always ready to leap into action. We reach a point where even when we are trying to rest, we have perpetual underlying tension …and it takes its toll on us.
So how do we help ourselves with this? How do we make the switch from a constantly wired nervous system that is always on guard and burning us out - to a state of inner peace and resilient calm that means we are stable, grounded and can thrive? How do we support ourselves so that we are actually more able to genuinely respond to challenges from calm strength and confidence rather than from exhausted, trembling anxiety? How do we create that inner environment of safety that pours feel good hormones through our system? How do we become the safety that we can’t find outside us?
Here are a few of the things we can do….
- Acknowledge that nourishing yourself by creating inner safety is a good thing for your system that helps you function at your best and boosts wellbeing. Make a conscious decision to give this to yourself.
- Relate to yourself like you are with a friend who you adore. Add extra depth to this if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Be like that loving friend that gives you a warm, all-encompassing hug that you can fully relax into.
- Bathe yourself in soothing supportive self talk. Especially if you have a tendency to self-criticism and self-judgment. Switch it around so that when you find yourself saying negative things to yourself choose instead to speak with tenderness.
- If there are things that overtax your nervous system, allow yourself a break from them when you can to allow your system to reset and recharge.
- Give yourself permission to DO things that increase your experience of inner safety. Music that unwinds you, long baths that melt tension, walks in the fresh air, extra time hugging your pillow in bed…whatever takes you to a creature comfort happy place…enjoy giving it to yourself.
- Something you can do either on its own or to enrich everything else in this list is - the Smile to Your Heart Breath. Scientists have found that if you breathe with a balanced rhythm, then become aware of something that makes you smile, you quickly and smoothly help your system to shift into a state of biological, emotional and mental safety. They call this state coherence…it’s one of the most self-soothing, self-loving, inner safety creating things you can do for yourself.
I've condensed these into a graphic for you to copy and print off
so you can stick it on your fridge or bedroom mirror as reminder of things that will boost your ability to be the source of your own safety.
I want to add a note about what this list is...
it’s about a way of being, to gently hold us in a place of peaceful balance, where we cherish ourselves with the self-care practice of putting our inner safety first. This is intended as a way of supporting ourselves so that we maintain wellbeing in our mental and emotional health.
What this list isn’t…
it's not therapeutic intervention for those experiencing trauma, or serious mental health issues that require additional support. While inner safety is relevant to helping to create a healthy mental state - if you are in extreme emotional and mental distress it is hard to create that state of inner safety on your own…so I encourage you to get the support that you need.
Also this list isn’t the full picture. There are many other things we can do which build our resilience, inner strength, peaceful power and calm confidence and so help us reinforce the ecosystem of safety within us. Examples of this are healthy boundaries, mediation an