Reprioritizing Wellness as a Way of Life
Creating a lifestyle in support of health, happiness and nervous system regulation
The importance of nervous system regulation in human physiology is arguably one of the, if not the, most important topics in regards to health and wellness. We all know that practices that reduce stress are highly beneficial, and often try to include them in our day-to-day routines. The depth of this issue, however, just keeps revealing itself to me, both in my own life, and as I understand and explore healing, disease and my own personal spiritual connection. What does it really look like to prioritize nervous system regulation in our modern lives? I feel like this is a concept that has become so foreign that many of us not only don’t have any idea how often we exist in a state of overstimulation and nervous system activation, but probably can’t even imagine a life where this is not the case. It has become so normalized in our culture to be so busy and hurried, to run from one thing to the next, day-after-day, and to be constantly engaged with technology and media, that it is not unusual to never slow down. The big consideration here for me, however, is the personal and societal costs that result from living this way. Are these costs we are willing to pay? And for how long?
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to create a bit more space in my life and experience what it is like to step out of stress. Now, don’t get me wrong here, everything is not peaches and cream, and my life is certainly not without its challenges. I have just had the opportunity (not so gently suggested by circumstances of health and life) to slow down and let go of all but the essential obligations. Perhaps most importantly, I have finally given myself permission to take time and space to focus on my own healing. Taking time and space is generally a concept that is frowned upon in our culture. We are used to being rewarded for what we have accomplished, we tend to put all our focus on what we need to get done, and we are mostly judged by what we do rather that how we be. Many of us feel guilty for doing nothing, being “unproductive”, and/or having nothing to show for our time. But this is exactly the kind of nourishment we (and our nervous systems) need most. Unstructured time is key for nervous system decompression, and time spent in quiet, stillness, meditation and reflection is a requirement for emotional integration, physical repair and spiritual connection.
What if we valued wonder, awe, curiosity, reflection, observation, presence, and connection as much as activity, obligation and to-do’s? What if we prioritized our emotional, physical and spiritual health over what we needed to get done? Ok, I know there’s a reality check here – we all have to pay the bills, feed our kids, sleep and do the dishes. But think how different things would be, people would be, our culture would be, if we placed real value and attention on stillness instead of activity, wellness instead of productivity. Everything could be different: how we feel, and therefore how we treat each other, how well we are able to create the lives we want, find happiness and manifest our dreams, how healthy we are and how many symptoms we experience, how well we can access creativity and inspiration, what we value in others – friends and leaders - and how clear we are in our own values and priorities. The list goes on and on. What we are engaged in now is a seriously dimmed down, stressed-out, disconnected way of life. It’s time we start thinking about how willing we are to keep assenting to live in this way.
But how is it possible, you might ask, in our modern world, to break free of this lifestyle? I know, it can feel insurmountable; like you are trapped and have no choice. I’ve been there. But this is exactly what keeps you locked into your current reality. As long as you feel disempowered and unable to make change, you can’t. The moment you decide you have a choice, you can begin to shift. We have so much more freedom than we realize or take responsibility for, and, to be fair, are totally conditioned to believe otherwise. Here’s the thing: so much of how we use our time and energy is really about prioritization, in the small and large sense. You make time for what you prioritize. I know you might like to argue with me about this, but it’s really pretty straightforward. Now, I recognize that changing what you prioritize does require awareness and self-discipline, involves sacrifice and may be very challenging. But if you actually prioritize it (i.e. make it more important than anything else), then you will find a way to make it happen. If meditating is #1 on your priority list for the day, then you will find time for it, clear and simple.
There is also a very important bigger picture of prioritization as it applies to your overall lifestyle that is even more essential in creating real change than your daily routines and choices. To allow a shift to happen in a meaningful way, you have to create the right context. This could mean reassessing obligations and seeing if there are things that need to be let go of, holding clear boundaries and knowing how to say no, thinking about how you apportion and spend money, reevaluating your job and work situation, childcare support, number of pets, size of your garden, or responsibilities around care for your home, land and possessions. If you really want to begin to build a different way of life, all of this is on the table: nothing that requires your time and energy should go unexamined. And of course, there will always be unavoidable tasks and obligations that need tending to. It’s just important to remember that there are also always opportunities to reassess, see what is actually necessary and decide how far you are willing to go to make change. Often, many of the tasks we think we have to do, we actually are choosing to take on. For me, this process has been a revolution, an opportunity to get really clear on what’s important, and connect more deeply to my values and boundaries around quality of life, for myself and my family.
I have come to think of the way of life I have been describing as the Standard American Lifestyle (S.A.L.), comparable and with similar health implications as the more commonly known Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). Just as McDonald’s food will kill you, so will a lifestyle in which you are constantly stressed, rushed and exhausted. We are often persuaded by our culture to think this way of being is normal, and are often praised for being so busy and doing so much. What are we really assenting to, though, by accepting these conditions as normal and just trying harder and harder to keep up with them? A life in which we experience little enjoyment, rare presence with the people we love and are on the fast track to chronic illness and disease? One in which overwhelm, fatigue and anxiety are our daily companions, we need caffeine and anti-depressants to keep up? Where we are blind to the wonder and beauty that surround us and disconnected from our own spiritual wisdom and sense of personal power? This is an inhuman/e way to live and we deserve so much more. As culture keeps us running on the hamster wheel of busy-ness and stress, our humanity begins to fray at the edges. Fight or flight takes over and we can no longer think beyond our own survival. If we are going to create a better world for ourselves and for future generations, it cannot be done by a population of people trapped by a lifestyle of stress. We have to be able to live in a state of regulation and connection to build even a rudimentary vision of what a better world could look like. The only way forward is to opt-out of the lifestyle we’ve been offered, shift our approach to life and work towards greater clarity in our boundaries and priorities.
In my life, I have frequently chosen to take a different route than the one culture has offered– food and health care, education and parenting, career and housing. This bigger picture of lifestyle, however, feels like the last frontier. I’m opting out of the S.A.L. and looking for something much better – a way of life that includes presence and peace, wonder and awe, joy and pleasure. Choosing this route will be challenging and may require sacrifice (as with many of the ways I have opted out of our cultural norms). I may not be successful at it all the time. But holding it as a value and a priority will continue to influence the choices I make and the way I craft my life, even when it feels like I don’t have a lot of options. The thing is, I’m just not willing to pay the costs anymore of the lifestyle I have previously accepted. I am not willing to be complicit in something so damaging, to myself, my family, to all of us. The time has come to make a change.
Hi! My name is Ashley and I'm a transformational healer, writer and artist. Here you will find articles on a variety of topics related to health and healing, conscious living and self-growth. Hope you enjoy!