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Mental Health Awareness Event Recap

Last month, we hosted our Mental Health Awareness Event with Jessa Llewelyn, LISCW. We started the event with a moment to practice mindfulness invitation. Jessa shared her personal pandemic story about a trip on the struggle bus and her upset reaction at the grocery store with her husband. She opened up about her local urban grocery store close to her home, which once was a life hack is longer how it used to be. Due to the pandemic and rules around staying 6-feet-apart, going to an urban confined grocery store now feels like a terrifying video game. She shared her story in hopes of humanizing the experience of having an exaggerated response during stressful times, especially like a pandemic.

We also talked about the science of the mind and body connection, how we can develop a strong respect for our bodies' capacity to respond and recover. We learned about the "Autonomic Nervous System," which comes from Stephen Porges' Polyvagal theory, a lead neuroscientist who developed this in 1994. The theory depicts the connection between our brain and physiological responses. Jessa’s focus during the event was to see if knowing more about our body changes any way we experience it.

The two components of the Autonomic Nervous System are:

  • Sympathetic Nervous System: This system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy to respond to perceived dangers.

  • Parasympathetic Nervous System: This system acts as a brake. It promotes the "rest and digest" response that calms the body down after the danger has passed. The two branches of this nervous system are Dorsal Vagal Complex and Ventral Vagal Complex.

While experiencing a dysregulated nervous system, we have trouble knowing what's wrong. We also have difficulty supporting ourselves to feel better. It can feel like an emotional roller coaster. We can achieve a more regulated system by supporting our nervous system's responses by paying attention to them and allowing us to stay within our tolerance window. Remember, there is NO JUDGEMENT in nervous system responses.

We closed the session with three invitations as a start to a point of wellness:

  • Give attention to your responses

  • Take a mindful approach; noticing without judgment is key. Whatever you are noticing/observing internally, observe and notice like you are watching a film on TV - there is no endpoint or no agenda.

  • Regular check-ins.

  • Hobbies that have a sensory experience. Some examples are cooking, putting a puzzle together, or yoga.

  • Listen to your threshold

  • We all have our threshold, and it can evolve and grow throughout our lifespan - this is your margin that your body considers manageable. The slower you go, the faster you'll get there. We're more efficient and productive when we give ourselves breaks and the support that we need. We also just last longer.

  • Seek your Ventral Vagal energy (social engagement and attunement)

  • We were originally herd animals and wired to process/overcome challenges in our herd. Engage with your herd! Have a weekly zoom call with a friend, hug a loved one at the end of a hard workday, or engage with your DC Lean In community. v

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