I’m not talking about your actual physical skin, but maybe that too feels too thin to protect us from the threats and multiple sources of harm that are in the world today.
There’s so many threats in the physical world, starting with the virus and going through every political, social and environmental issue that’s going on right now.
But I mean thin skinned more in the terms of our mental and emotional protective membrane. Did you know that our nervous system cells evolved from skin tissue cells, it makes sense doesn’t it, as the skin is a boundary that not only protects the inner from the outer but also facilitates communication between the outer and the inner. Hence the term being thin skinned when displaying sensitivity.
Do you feel thin skinned? I do. Every little upset being magnified and felt as an existential threat.
Last week, Amelia was booked to go to her new vets for a routine dental clean, it would mean anesthesia and so of course its a big deal. And the vet, whilst doing an ad hoc examination in the car park, hurt her and she darted back into the car to get away from him.
That was it. She wasn’t going in there. I took her home, registered her with a new vet, had the registration consultation later that same day and her op is rebooked for next week.
Which should have been the end of the matter, but all day Wednesday and into Thursday and Friday I was upset and off balance. And whilst taking the dogs to the vets is always emotional for me, this was particularly impactful.
And I put that down what I’m calling The Corona Effect. The virus itself is bad enough, but the whole world had experienced a deeply unsettling, I would even say traumatic event in the mitigation of the virus and that is the LockDown.
Isolation is not a healthy state for human beings, we have evolved as a social species, WE REQUIRE CONNECTION with others to feel safe and happy. It is the default of a healthy nervous system to feel safe in the company of others.
To allow our nervous systems to operate at their optimum state we require feeling safe, and human beings feel safest in groups. That’s one reason why we long to belong. But what happens now?
The Corona Effect means that to be safe we have to isolate and now that LockDown is easing in most parts of the world, we’re supposed to be able to feel safe in populated spaces as long as certain criteria are met.
Its a lot of confusing information and that’s something our nervous systems hate; confusion. None of this calms our autonomic nervous system at all. And so we feel thin skinned, sensitive, on a hair trigger.
Well, I do, at least. I may be alone in this.
My stress levels are heightened, even though I think I’m calm and at peace and have adjusted quite well. The least trigger sets off an alarm in my systems that howls like an air raid siren throughout my body’s systems.
A couple of weeks ago, I got into the car and as I started it up I heard a loud wail, like an ambulance siren, I thought it was right behind me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Turns out it was just a stupid ad on the radio, but my reaction was telling.
This particular combination of circumstances, with the biological imperative of the social aspect of safety and security effectively denied to us means that we are pretty much constantly in a state of stress and we’re getting used to it, so that stressed state becomes our new normal.
This is dangerous to our physical health just as much as it is to our mental and emotional health.
How do we restore homeostasis and return to a state of rest, relaxation and healing?
Here’s the bad news. Its not just going to happen by going out and having a drink. Its going to be bloody hard work.
Here’s something I learned recently, once our autonomic nervous system shuts down due to stress, we have not evolved a method to switch it back.
Biologically, we have no way back. Its not just going to happen.Not if we give it enough time, or cups of tea of whatever panacea we throw at it.
You’re not a freak for still feeling anxious and afraid. You’re not being silly or too sensitive. Its perfectly reasonable and an expected reaction to trauma.
But now, we are all going to have to work to overcome this state of body and mind. Because it involves both. Its not just about cognitive brain work or physical body work. We have to get the mind and body to reintegrate and work together.
And this means going back to the list of things you keep meaning to do but never get around to:
- Breathing Exercises
- Team Sports
I’ve been researching Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory’, and he describes the journey from trauma to healing as ‘a pragmatic quest for safety with an implicit bodily drive to survive, emphasising the feelings not the events and objects.’
For me it means that healing is in listening to your feelings and not rerunning the events, what happened and by whom in your mind.
You need to understand what your nervous system needs to feel safe because feeling safe again provides the condition necessary for physical and mental health, healing and positive social behaviour.
One thing we can do is introduce routine. Our nervous system loves predictability. So figure out how you can, in the midst of the chaos of mixed governmental messaging, introduce predictability into your life. Create a daily/weekly routine that works for you.
The next step is to introduce safe social interaction. That may be on Zoom or Skype or at a 2 metre distance, and that’s okay, whatever works for you, the most important thing is that you feel safe and have the ability to smile, to connect.
Be aware that your nervous systems have been triggered and take steps to rehabilitate your body and mind by regulating your physiological state.
Be kind to yourself and others. Be patient. It’s going to be a long road back to feeling ‘normal’ again.