Nervous System Stoke: Part 1

Sometimes I find myself almost apologetic with how many times I weave in the nervous system to a client’s mental or emotional state in a session. But then I quickly get past that for one simple reason-the simple reason is “It works!”-why apologize for applying something that actually and factually assists  in better mental health and wellbeing!  

And with all the things happening in our world these days-it feels SO right to be putting this out there: a “mental” health modality that can really help support us athletes to be better humans.

It is a fairly common notion that there is a murkiness or nebulousness surrounding our emotions, our moods, our thoughts.  All one has to do is take an introductory Psychology class to know that there are about as many modalities and theories that attempt to map out the human psyche as there are colors on a color wheel.  This is understandable as it’s been a challenge to put metrics to emotions, thoughts, and mood states.  There is something sublime and uniquely human and beautiful about that. However, when we are struggling and not feeling well the last thing we crave is the nebulous.  We want a clearer, more direct way to feel better-to resolve the murkiness that we already feel. 

In my early days as a therapist, and having done much therapy myself, I remember sitting in countless therapy sessions attempting to hold the tension between two things…one: holding space, compassion and offering simple validation to a client and then two: trying like heck to teach a model or construct meaning or origin from the client’s problem.  Where did this pattern come from?  Why did this happen? How can we change our thinking? What do we do?  How do we dissect thoughts, behavior, actions, inner child, outer child, parts therapy, dialects, steps…on and on.  And the million dollar question: HOW CAN WE/I FIX IT?   

Ha, I’m tired just writing this.  It’s not that asking these questions is wrong or bad, or not beneficial but most of the time simply analyzing our emotional states and behavior does little to correct it.  Oppositional, working just with behavior (i.e-behavior change) does little to correct what drives the behavior.  In short and back the:-conventional counseling approaches seemed to fall short of really from the core transforming the problem or the issue.  I was aiding in management-NOT correction.  

So when I began learning and applying this very different modality of  “mental health”-somatic, neurobiology, and nervous system work, I was blown away by the efficacy of it.  Basically, I was learning how to first work with biology, THEN with psychology.   The changes were stunning and so much less exhaustive. (In truth-it almost felt strange as I had always thought that therapy was like training-hard, exhausting, and only beneficial if I worked REAL hard)

 What changes did I notice (and continue to notice)?  Mostly I started to FEEL some natural ease in my life. Both metaphor and not, I could breathe easier-exhaling more and simply not getting as worked up about things.  Even my mysterious digestive symptoms that had plagued me for decades  were getting better!   Even my GI doc’s had given up hope.  Never was it presented to me that my gut issues were a result of an unbalanced biological nervous system.   The most remarkable part was that it was happening automatically, from the inside out, or the bottom up as I like to call it.  I wasn’t having to try to apply or “think” about what was happening.  I wasn’t having to put effort into my understanding, my thinking, or my emotions.  As I continued to help my nervous system gain more balance, life became easier, rounder, and more fluid.  This is not to say the struggles were gone, circumstantially everything was about the same, but the way I was relating to life was different.  Sleep was/is better, digestion is better, and my emotions, my relationships, everything just felt/feels  easier.

My MO for life has always been: work hard, harder, achieve and produce results.   At some point, that well does start to run dry and can really affect our health.  

Most athletes fall into this way of living.  

However, there was still one stiff selling point for me: if life was easier, rest came more naturally, and I wasn’t so amped up all the time, -could I still be an endurance athlete?  After all, years of cognitive talk therapy HAD indeed shed some light on the fact that I had used my athletics as a coping mechanism (both good and bad).  That did terrify me a bit, coping aside-running, riding, gliding and moving my body WAS and still is a huge part of my life.  The answer was and still is clear: a resounding YES!   At age 44 I still consider myself an endurance athlete-capable of throwing down when I need and want to.  What feels different though is where the drive comes from-it comes from excitement, vitality, enjoyment, curiosity…not insecurity, competition, compulsion.  Given my background and history in sport, some find it unbelievable when I say honestly that I’m not a competitive person…more accurately I would say that my drive comes from a very different place than being number one, or two, or three-or beating someone else.  It comes from a true and pure place of loving to push myself to the edge and knowing “I gave my best”.  On some days that works out to be a PR, or a podium step and on some days it means relaxing and giving myself an extra day(s) of rest, not because my coach calls for it or my Whoop band dictates it but because there is a subtle inner knowing, that “it’s okay to chill out”.  I am more than my sport.  Exhale. 

Not only has this work been personally transformative, but I’ve seen it ripple and change many of my client-athlete’s lives as well.  Pro, non-pro, age group, master, veteran-I’ve witnessed positive change in all.  

There you have it: my stoke- my reason for why I’ve created Post Traumatic Growth Therapy for Athletes-a somatic, nervous system based approach to therapy to help folks be both better athletes and humans!  Next time I’ll get a bit more into the nitty gritty science  part. 

If you’re as excited as I am…check out this page out to get your free NS guide:

https://marisaasplund.com/post-traumatic-growth-for-athletes/

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