In honor of Mother's Day, our team from Pacific Cascade Legal recently sat down with certified TRE® (tension and trauma releasing exercises) provider and nervous system educator, Christa Bevan. She talked about how nervous system regulation and halting generational trauma can help mothers to feel more empowered in their journey through motherhood. As trusted family law attorneys who have worked with countless mothers in various cases and situations throughout the years, we were highly interested in what she had to share.
What is Nervous System Literacy?
According to Christa, nervous system literacy is “this idea of becoming literate about our nervous system and starting to understand the way that our innate stress physiology is wired. One of the things that can happen really frequently is that we will respond to a situation in our life from a place of stress, from a place of being activated in our nervous system, and we're not always proud of how we've behaved. Then afterward, we can feel a lot of shame and a lot of guilt around that behavior. What I've found is that when we can start to learn and understand why we respond the way that we do in certain situations, we can not only prevent those from happening in the future, but at the very least we can change how we interact with ourselves after the fact.”
Practical Example of Stress Responses for Moms
“Here’s an example that ties into actual mom life. If your child is having a tantrum, just like a complete meltdown, in the middle of the aisle of Target, and you are completely embarrassed, that can feel like a threat to your nervous system,” says Bevan. “It can trigger you into this place of activation, where you feel like you need to act. And you might respond to your child in a way that again, you're not proud of. Maybe you yell at them, maybe you say snap out of it, maybe you sort of pick them up and you say cut it out, or you're speaking in a tone of voice that you don't like. That’s happening because your body is responding to this perceived threat. We know, rationally, that our child having a tantrum in the middle of Target isn't actually a threat. But on a subconscious level, it feels threatening, and that's how our body is responding. When we start to understand that, then we can start to have more compassion and understanding for why we're responding the way that we do.”
Nervous System Literacy Builds Compassion
“It takes being in a regulated nervous system state so that you can respond to stressors in life with more accuracy. If you have a lot of unhealed trauma in your body because your body is where that stuff gets stored, then you start to see the world from a state of danger, and your perceptions about your world start to skew in that direction,” explains Bevan. “If we can bring in some nervous system regulation work to get you into a place where you are not so quick to react, where you have what's called a larger window of tolerance— I like to describe it as bending to stressors in life instead of breaking under their weight—if we can start to expand those things and regulate your nervous system, then when those things happen, we're better able to again put that pause in between the triggering event and our reaction.”
Recognizing Stressors to Regulate Your Nervous System
“The first thing we do is we start to look at patterns when you face a certain stressor. I call them stress hotspots in your life. Is it that every time that you need to go to the grocery store, your anxiety kicks in? Is that a pattern that we can recognize? If it is, what can we do? How can we work with that? How can we honor the fact that your body is having this anxious reaction? Is it there for a reason? Can we accept what that reason is and then change that that reason is existing? Or can we change the way that you interact with that stressor? What can we do to manage that anxiety?”, advises Bevan. “We can also start to focus on tools to work with the body. I do a lot of embodiment work, and a lot of different brain science-based tools to really get people to come into safety in their body—because, again, when we're talking about the nervous system and the survival brain, we're mostly talking about the body's responses to things. The best way […] to approach working with that is to work with the body, and use somatic approaches to start to shift some of these things, and start to move out of those patterns so that you can create that new story for yourself.”
Christa’s full interview is available for free download via our firm’s podcast, Modern Family Matters, which can be found via Apple Podcast. If you would like to get connected with Christa about nervous system literacy, you can contact our firm at (503) 227-0200.