‘Safety’ means something different to my nervous system than it does to ‘me’. The difference provides a world of opportunity to nurture healing.
My integrative health coach training through Duke Integrative Medicine equipped me with a process for helping clients identify goals for their health and walk a holistic path to reaching them. In our work with patients with chronic illness, we have become convinced of the role of chronic stress load in the development of illness. I have focused my work on reducing that load of chronic stress reactivity and building resilience to life’s perpetual stressors.
I have practiced meditation almost every day through years filled with stressful challenges. An extensive body of research supports the benefits of meditation for reducing stress. But it wasn’t until I began to learn the physiology of stress through my work that I understood the fundamental role of the nervous system’s detection of unsafety in the stress reaction. In other words, the stress reaction is a neurobiological event in the body. That understanding opens the door to a new approach to nurturing resilience based on practical and practice-able techniques for using conscious mind to help the autonomic nervous system detect safety. When this process is working properly, the ‘happy’ neurochemicals are released, allowing the body to return to its mode for healing and thriving. And with frequent practice, we rewire this thrive setting into a new default.
As I learned this, my focus on caring for myself shifted and I began to gather lots of tools beyond meditation, and to incorporate these into my daily routine. I slowly healed from years of a tormenting chronic skin condition suspected to be auto-immune, which neither conventional or alternative medicine understood or could help me with. My work with our patients incorporates a growing collection of such skills and techniques. This focus empowers patients to be proactive in their healing journey, and often moves them toward more joy and satisfaction in life.
This is the work I am now privileged to do. Cultivating my nervous system’s sense of safety has made it possible.
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