In this post, I’m going to jump out of the “athletic” arena and get into more gritty universal science and mental health stuff. (all applicable to athletes).
Years back when I first started learning about this “Biology First” model of therapy/counseling, and as expressed in a previous post, I was a skeptic but at the very same time, and being a total lover of the science, it made complete and total sense. (I loved it) Finally, there seemed to be an order of operations rooted in science that explained the complexity of our human mental experience. As I grew in my training, learning and application to clients, I began to have this deep feeling that I “couldn’t UN-know, what I knew”…I HAD no choice but to turn to biology as a precursor to psychology. To truly help people I had to look at what the body was doing.In other terms, our biological state or nervous system state strongly determines our mental health. And not the other way around. I’ll unpack this here in more simplistic terms.
Psychology, a bucket term that I use to include thoughts and emotions, has traditionally been viewed more as a closed system. It’s sadly been highly stigmatized contributing to this more shame based closed system approach. This sort of splitting has affected the evolution therapy methods. Even the slogan “go talk to someone” sort of describes how we view the treatment or improvement of mental health.
(Although it does seem that our view of mental health is shifting, yay!)
However, most therapy adopts the conventional split or closed system model. This is problematic.
As humans we have both a deep survival based (body based) reptilian brain (that’s the nervous system part) and we have a more modern cognitive based “thinking” brain. Most of us identify with our thinking part of the brain, the logic, the rational, the meaning making center. It’s quite remarkable all the tasks our “thinking” brain can do. However, we’ve somehow created a hierarchy: that our rational thinking brains are the most superior to all body functions. In this we’ve lost our connection to our biology, our bodies that are primarily ruled by that older brain; that older brain whose primary purpose is to keep us safe.
If our body is receiving a signal of threat (I’ll unpack that in a different post) but we try to use our rational brain to ignore that “feeling” or even worse: tell ourselves that we are incorrect to feel that we are in a doozy of a mental health situation. I see this most days with my clients (and just people out and about): a body or biological state that is in direct opposition to the thinking brain…that’s what I call classic anxiety. (respectfully, in most simple of terms) Referencing a previous statement, WHAT I know is this: to provide a fully therapeutic experience I MUST include and prioritize the biological state while also tending to the thoughts and emotions that co-exist. Both must be tended to.
As humans we do have a bi-directional brain to body connection. This means our body impacts our thinking brain, and our thinking brain impacts our body…but here’s the kicker and take home message: OUR BIOLOGY IMPACTS OUR BRAIN AT A 80% TO 20% RATE. What??!!! Yes, how our body feels (nervous system state) will at an 80% rate, determine how our mental state is. That’s a pretty sweet deal IF we’re working to help our nervous systems get more regulated. It’s a pretty raw deal, if we’ve spent years and years arduously working on our mental health wondering why we still feel X, Y, or Z. Even something as beneficial as a meditation practice often cannot shift biologic states.
So it’s sort of simple: to feel good, happy, calm, joyous, focused, and purposeful we gotta have a body or biology that is also all of those things, first.
And yes, there is that other 20%. That’s important too…we can direct our thinking, focus it, watch for it, which is pretty cool but it’s just a longer, more laborious process that can lead to some mental health burnout.
I like things that work best; efficiently.
So I’ll keep rolling in this direction: let’s get our bodies more regulated!