“The first step in creating sustainable Calm AF energy is learning how to regulate your nervous system. When it’s dysregulated, all bets are off.”
Calm AF Life, Part 2: Nervous System First
Hello, Gorgeous Soul.
Whether you realize it or not, you curate your entire life around the state of your nervous system. Your nervous system is always the first point of contact with anything and everything. Your nervous system creates stories that feel VITALLY important to believe, rules that feel CRUCIAL to hyper vigilantly follow, and beliefs that feel necessary for survival.
The first step in creating sustainable Calm AF energy is learning how to regulate your nervous system. When it’s dysregulated, all bets are off.
Listen to this second installment of the Calm AF Forever series, which is all about putting your nervous system first, and for a deeper dive into the mechanics of the nervous system, download my FREE 25-minute course here: https://kristen-finch.mykajabi.com/offers/ihVYFbz5
AND!! My lifetime program, Calm AF Life, launches in January. Tap here to join the interest list to learn more!
Opposite AF, our online course for neurodiverse relationships, is now live and available to all! Join us! https://kristenfinch.com/oppositeaf
Subscribe to Calm AF on YouTube to get even more good stuff: https://www.youtube.com/calmafpodcast
Feelings: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Do Life Without ‘Em
Here’s the ugly, unwelcome, pain-in-the-ass truth: If you want to change your life, you have to learn to own and intentionally feel your feelings. All your feelings, not just the good ones.
Now, you might think you already know how to feel. In fact, my empaths, energy managers, and highly sensitive people might even feel as though you’re experts at feeling all the feelings for yourself and all the people everywhere.
When I say you gotta feel your feelings, you think, Kristen, I am feeling all the time. Feeling overwhelmed, resentful, stuck, exhausted, happy, grateful, sad. It’s too much.
I get it. What I find, though, is that most people default to a reactionary state as soon as they start experiencing their feelings. Because it seems like their feelings are always happening to them — in other words, that their own feeling state is out of their control — the natural response is to react to it. It’s sort of like if you sneeze, you just keep going about your day, but if someone else sneezes, you stop everything you’re doing to offer them God’s blessing.
Feeling our feelings is not so bad when we’re experiencing uplifting, happy ones. But it suuuuuucks when we experience negative — or what I call, non-preferred — feelings or emotions. Some examples:
- My husband just started slamming all the cabinets because his bread fell on the floor…and now I’m feeling panicky.
- My sister just texted me a passive aggressive message and so I’m feeling anxious.
- The principal at my kid’s school is a dunce and it just burns me up.
I call these non-preferred feelings because no-one prefers to feel anxious or panicky or pissed off. Maybe you kinda like the adrenaline surge that accompanies anger, or you might have learned over the years to “use” those anxious feelings as fuel for performing. But if I could magically offer you the option of feeling either splendid or irate for the rest of your life, of course, you’re going to choose splendid. You never get tired of feeling awesome; feeling like crap you can only do for so long.
Unfortunately, as humans, we’re all stuck with the full range of emotions. Fortunately, dealing with them is something you can get soooo good at. But, before you do, it’s helpful to know a few dirty secrets about the brain and how it reacts to non-preferred feelings.
Panic at the Disco
Brains — more specifically, the neural networks they comprise — are malleable. If we want to think something new, and make it a permanent thought, we can. It just takes time and intention.
The problem is, if we want to think something shitty, and make it permanent, we can. It just takes time and lack of intention. It’s these shitty thoughts that we program into our brains, usually subconsciously, that rile up our nervous systems. That’s really a brain’s job: to keep itself alive by ramping up or ramping down whatever body it lives in. When we feel something positive, we seek more of it. When we ingest something foul, we spit it out reflexively. And, wuddenchaknowit, anytime you experience a non-preferred or negative feeling, your brain marshals everything at its disposal to FIX IT NOW.
And when you are in this state of high-alert, this knee-jerk state of FIX IT NOW, clear thinking goes out the window. You aren’t logically reasoning. Instead, you are reacting in one of four ways.
- You fight. If you tend to get in fight mode when you’re triggered, you might go straight to intense anger. Your muscles or jaw may get tense, you might want to destroy something or someone, or cry.
- You run away. Here’s how I see this a lot in my clients: just keep moving, just keep busy, avoid.
- You shut down. Numb out using alcohol or food or your phone.
- You fix. You energy-manage, you people please, you hyper-vigilantly try to make the trigger go away.
Most humans never grow beyond this level of emotional intelligence. Something non-preferred triggers them, they default to one of those four reactions, and then the cycle inevitably repeats when their attempts to fight, flee, fuck-it, or fix-it introduces its own set of triggers. As a result, most humans spend their lives reacting to emotions, avoiding their feelings, trying to change the world around them to protect themselves from non-preferred feelings.
The problem, gorgeous soul, is that you will always feel like a victim of your circumstances if you never do the work to break this cycle. Your feelings will always be controlled by someone or something else — your partner, your boss, your coworkers, your mom, your friend, your kids, your dog, the government, drivers on the road, people walking in front of you, images you see on social media.
Here’s the thing. When you don’t take intentional ownership over your own emotions, you are always at the mercy of the world outside of you.
Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings…
When I look back at the transformations I’ve achieved in my life, I know they happened because I was willing to feel something instead of run away.
My relationship with money changed when I stopped being afraid to feel fear.
My relationship with my body changed when I stopped being afraid to feel imperfect.
My neurodiverse marriage change when I stopped being afraid of feeling judged.
My whole life changed when I stopped being afraid of the feeling I would feel if people around me were feeling their own non-preferred feelings.
This is the key. This is what I teach my clients. But when I tell someone that, “Hey, the key to changing your life? You’re gonna have to feel like shit a whole bunch,” most people are like, “Yeah, no thanks. I already feel like shit a whole bunch, Kristen, that’s what I’m trying to fix.”
To which I say, “Exactly! That’s just it.”
The reason you’re feeling like shit is because you are spending all of your life trying not to feel negative, even though life is a constant cycle of positive and negative. Ups and downs, struggle and flow. Things going well and things not going well, then going well, then not going well, and on and on and on.
There is No Peace Without Emotional Ownership and Resilience.
When you don’t have emotional resilience, you spend time worrying, anxious, or unsettled about both the ups and the downs. When shit is hitting the fan, you’re freaking out because it’s a flood of non-preferred feelings. And when things are working in your favor, you’re freaking out because it’s only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan again.
There is no peace without emotional ownership and resilience.
There is no being present without emotional ownership and resilience.
There is no true inner strength without emotional ownership and resilience.
And Now, the How.
How do you start shifting from fearing your feelings to feeling empowered and resilient in your feelings?
First, just give yourself a little grace. Maybe you don’t have much in the way of emotional ownership and resilience, but definitely it is not your fault. As kids, and even as adults, we simply aren’t taught to own our emotions. Oddly, however — and against all reason — we are taught that we are responsible for other people’s emotions. Mom is happy when I do this. Dad is mad when I do that. Teacher seems pleased when I do this. Friends reject me when I do that.
Seriously, what…the fuck?? It’s insanity. We all learn, society as a whole, to pass our feelings off as someone else’s responsibility while claiming rights to everyone else’s feelings. Why?? We don’t feel ownership over the appearance of a neighbor’s lawn or the winter storage options for a friend’s sailboat. We don’t hack into our boss’s social media accounts to adjust her privacy and contact settings to our liking, or run around the grocery store parking lot, rounding up all the stray carts and performing light maintenance on the ones with squeaky tires. Wouldn’t even think of doing it, because we aren’t insane. We know where the line is, and we have no desire to cross it. That is, until it comes to feelings. So cut yourself some slack and give yourself some time. This is not an overnight transformation. I’ve been heavily focused on emotional ownership and resilience for years and I still struggle pretty regularly. But, just like with weightlifting or learning a new language, the gains come from the periods of struggle. So keep going, but do so mindfully.
Second, in order to not be afraid of feelings, you’ve got to learn how to calm your nervous system down. This is how we get out of the reactionary action and into calm AF intentional action. And the great news, here, is that this is a physiological process — which means you can actually go out and buy some gadgets that will show you quantifiable results of the practice.
There are a lot of different ways to calm your nervous system and I find that the best approach really depends on each person and how the energy is showing up in your body. In other words, whether your nervous system defaults to fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fixing.
Ask yourself, What do I need right now? Do I need to bring this big energy down? Do I need stillness? Do I need deep breaths? Do I need to ground my energy by walking outside barefoot or getting on the yoga mat? Do I need to bring this energy out? Do I need to release energy? Do I need to shake my body, stomp my feet, dance like a wild woman, run, scream, punch a bag or a pillow?
This is where emotional intelligence meets physical embodiment; you need to include your body in the effort to regulate your nervous system. And you need to be able to calm your nervous system so that you can access your feelings and let them fulfill their purpose. Most often, that purpose is being the GPS that informs your behavioral path.
After all, the purpose of feelings isn’t to torture you or to make you feel good. The purpose of feelings is to teach you, to guide you in your decisions and behaviors.
Put another way, there is no greater guide in your life right now than your own internal GPS system: your feelings.
So, now that you’ve calmed that nervous system (see #2 above), you are ready to allow and acquaint yourself with your feelings. Not just some of them, not just the greatest hits or the shiniest apples, but all of them. The good, the bad and the ugly.
“The purpose of feelings isn’t to torture you or to make you feel good. The purpose of feelings is to teach you, to guide you in your decisions and behaviors. There is no greater guide in your life right now than your own internal GPS system: your feelings.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra
Now, we’re getting into the real shit. If this were a scary movie, we’ve pulled up to the abandoned grain mill, it’s after midnight, it’s raining, and we’re about to squeeze in through a broken window. That’s what it’s like to start saying “yes” to feelings.
My advice at this stage? Have a plan.
You don’t squeeze through a broken window at a haunted mill on a rainy night without a plan.
Plans and processes make complicated things simple. Anytime we’re challenged to do something kinda scary, the brain likes to know there’s some sort of plan to refer to. Like, when people go skydiving, before they step out of the plane, every cell in their body related to self-preservation screams, “DON’T DO IT DUMMY YOU’RE GOING TO DIE.” The reason you step out of that plane is because you have a plan. You packed a parachute, you’ve been taught how to jump safely, you know what to do if the parachute fails. And so even though your body is like fffffuck that shit, you can move through it and jump.
Now, for many of us, jumping out of a plane sounds far more appealing than processing a crappy emotion. As a result, I help my clients to develop their own plans that, as their coach, I know will work for them. Often, my clients use four-step, emotional access framework that I’ve created called The Feelings Room. In this framework, my clients learn first to set intentions for how they will feel. This immediately puts them in a position of power and intentionality, rather than one of victimhood and reactivity. From there, I spend hours upon hours coaching them on how to handle any feeling that shows up, so they can own it rather than be owned by it. It’s a process and you need a guide to help you navigate it.
If you have a coach or similar professional whom you’re working with, ask them to help you develop a plan or a method for processing non-preferred feelings. And if you don’t have a life coach, this is reason number umpty-ump why you should get one.
Anyway, the other reason you need a plan is because once you start doing the scary thing of relating to your emotions on your terms, you’ll need a way to tell what’s bullshit and what’s real. Because your brain, I hate to break it to you, has convinced you of a humongous lie: it has convinced you that your feelings equate to real danger. It has convinced you that welcoming your feelings is welcoming an existential threat. And how do we react to dangerous threats? By fighting, fleeing, numbing out, or fixing.
But here is the truth:
Anxiety does not constitute an emergency. Grief does not constitute an emergency. Jonesing for a cigarette or a bowl of ice cream does not constitute an actual emergency. Guilt does not constitute an actual emergency.
So, as I teach my group clients in great depth, first you calm your nervous system and then you work your plan.
Emotional Ownership and Resilience: Two Things That Change Everything
As you practice emotional ownership, you begin to see that it affects almost every aspect of your emotional intelligence. You don’t get good at setting and following through on boundaries, for example, if you can’t handle the feeling of guilt. You don’t stop energy managing, walking on eggshells, if you aren’t willing to feel anxiety. You don’t stop overeating/overdrinking/over-indulging if you doggedly avoid that feeling of agitation.
Nothing changes in your life — and I mean, nothing — not your relationships, not your body, not your career, not your house, not your level of happiness — if you aren’t willing to feel uncomfortable AF — for at least a little, temporary, totally nonpermanent while.
As one of my clients asked, after I taught her The Feelings Room,: “Why would I want to do this???”
It was a legit question, and there’s an equally legit answer. Because here’s what happens when you build emotional resilience and you know you are completely capable of feeling any feeling that shows up:
First, you don’t need to people-please. You don’t need to energy-manage. You know you can handle the feelings when someone around you is upset. Also, bonus: you learn that the best thing for the people around you is to let them build their own emotional resilience.
If you are always fixing shit for people, they will always be dependent on you or others, and things will never get easier for anyone involved.
Second, speaking of easier, sometimes people like to tell me it’s just easier to stay the energy manager. They have this false story that their life is just easier as they continue to shoulder the burden of someone else’s feelings.
It’s fucking not.
Take it from someone who was an energy manager and is now very much not one.
The amount of time and energy I spent in my life thinking about who I needed to be and what I needed to say, and what I needed to do in order to keep everyone else in my life OK…it was always at the expense of me being OK.
If I wanted to feel peace and joy and connection and abundance in my life I needed to get okay with feeling guilt and shame and fear and scarcity, too. I had to learn how to allow those feelings to be in my body…how to sit in the feeling of guilt without having to fix it in order to break the patterns that were keeping my life small unsatisfying.
I had to learn to think differently about feelings, learn that none of my feelings were bad. I had to learn that non-preferred feelings like fear and anxiety were not necessarily indicators that I was doing something wrong.
Now I know that when I can experience my feelings in a calm AF mindset instead of running away or resisting, I will use them as guides, the ultimate GPS, to navigate through whatever it is that’s causing them.
Which leads me to the third reason why someone would want to build resilience through emotional intelligence. Clarity and certainty live inside the feelings. When you intentionally go into the feeling, you discover things. “I’m just feeling guilt because of that old story that my role in my life is to be the manager of everyone else’s energy and moods. I’m feeling guilty because I’m thinking that I could prevent that person from being upset by fixing it for them. But that story isn’t true. That’s not my job. I can just allow the guilt, free of reaction.”
“Going into the feelings room” is only scary at first. I’m not gonna lie, fun is not the word I would use to describe it. But it’s always, always, always productive.
A Great Place to Start
As you begin to look at how you can build resilience and strengthen emotional ownership through emotional intelligence, I want you to ask yourself this question: What is the feeling that is keeping you from what you want?
For example, if you want to leave a toxic relationship, what is the feeling you’re gonna have to get comfortable feeling?
If you want to stop binge eating chocolate chips in the pantry, what is the feeling you’re going to have to sit with instead of trying to cover up? Is it boredom? Is it resentment? Is it shame?
If you want to feel more alive while you’re alive, what needs to change? And what feeling rooms are you gonna have to walk right into and learn to handle?
Once you have confidence that you can handle any feelings, even non-preferred ones…there’s nothing you can’t create.
We’re spending a ton of time on this in my Calm AF class for energy managers and people pleasers. Why? Because this is the #1 skill you need to learn in order to take your power back, get your sparkle back.
I highly suggest that if you struggle with energy managing and people pleasing, you’ll want to be in this class. If you had a toxic childhood and have some of these controlling behaviors as a result, then my love, this is for you. If you are in a neurodiverse relationship (or think you might be), this is for you. If you had to be the adult when you were a child, this is for you.
There is a community element to this class, in that you will be with other people who are unlearning their energy-managing, people-pleasing ways But it’s not the intimate feel of my Rewired AF retreat groups. I encourage you to come to the calls live, but you will get the replays if you can’t make it. I will teach you how to get the most out of the program whether you are showing up and getting coaching every chance you get or taking a more DIY approach.
It starts the week of May 23rd. Call times are TBD right now. As people join, we are looking for the time/day that works best for the majority of the group. Plan on 16 weeks of classes. I will be bringing in teachers and experts and past clients and people that I know will support your journey in rehabbing your energy-manager ways.
It’s going to be full and robust but I will teach you how to not be overwhelmed by it all, so that this isn’t just something you try for 16 weeks and move onto the next thing. This is something that gives you your life and energy back.
Click here to get all the rest of the details and the link to join. If you do it today, by the end of the day on May 4th, you’ll get a present in the mail! A swag bag with Calm AF merch and other goodies I feel like adding.
Join me, Energy Managers. This is like getting your doctorate in emotional resilience.
Go out there and feel all your feels, Gorgeous Soul.
It’s the key to feeling peace and presence and manifesting the life you want.
Love you so much.
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And if you want to dig deeper and work with a coach who’s GOT YOU, contact me to set up a free consult or to apply for my exclusive coaching program, Rewired AF. I love working with people who are hard on themselves, the over-thinkers, people pleasers, perfectionists, and overachievers. Any of this ringing your bell? I’d love to hear from you!