Our chronically stressed nervous system is like a stray hungry dog who’s been badly treated. He wants food, he wants affection, but he is fearful and can’t trust a friendly outstretched hand. He might even bite it!
The action of our nervous system activated into its defensive state ongoingly is to hold that distrust at the system level, which translates into our retracting reflexively from connection. The cognitive processes arising from that fearful, retracted state will be suspicious and seeing the worst. This negative mind-state will turn inward in the form of thought patterns that are self-doubting, harsh self-critical, socially anxious, to name few flavors of human inner unkindness. As the mind churns out thoughts like these, the nervous system is continuously retriggered into its fear signals. This is the vicious cycle of stress.
We know that stray dog will eventually overcome its fear and learn to trust again… IF kindly presence is sustained. When its need for warmth and nourishment are met consistently, its nervous system will naturally calm. At the level of innate nervous system intelligence, it ‘knows’ that constant vigilance is no longer necessary for survival. It has something much better.
Our human nervous system shares with our fellow mammals the capacity to ‘learn’ (and re-experience, and recirculate) fearful distrust; we also share the ‘neural plasticity’ to overcome that pattern and find the calm state where constant vigilance is not necessary.
How to turn the volume down on the first, and up on the second? Same way you make friends with that mistreated stray dog: by consistently offering connection that provides needed warmth and nourishment.