I miss school. I do! I miss the chatter and the laughter and the smiles in the halls and it seems that when I don’t have all of that I get very grumpy and squirrrelly. I’m not at all proud of the squirrel I’ve become: jumping from project to project, thought to thought, suggestion to suggestion, demand to demand, so that the other person in my house has become an equally grumpy groundhog who has dug his way to the subsoil, having already passed through meters of organic matter and topsoil and he’s not looking back! The thing is, the more he digs, the more I behave like a squirrel and the more I behave like a squirrel the more he digs. You see the losing battle we were locked into?
Our solution (this time): With our phones in another room we sat down to a meal together and I asked him, of all things, what toys he’d enjoyed playing with as a kid. He told me about Red, a plastic dog his mute and emotionally-frozen grandmother had given him. Then he told me about carving animals out of pieces of soft wood. I told him about my doll Anney who was special to me, but not as special as the fields, woods and hay mows I explored and escaped to. And voila! We both relaxed. The squirrel settled herself down at the mouth of the hole and the groundhog turned his fat little body around and climbed up to where he could hear.
Want to know the science behind this? The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) operates all the basic functions of our bodies automatically (duh), without our control and is the source of our survival responses. There are two branches of the ANS: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS). In many ways they are the exact opposite of one another. You might enjoy looking up images of these two systems, but it’s enough to know that the PNS acts like a brake pedal and helps us relax, unwind and get rid of any unwanted sympathetic activation. The SNS is like the gas pedal and gives us energy and helps prepare us for threat. In this instance both My Love and I had our SNS’s pedal to the floor, and what it took to ease up and access the PNS was some non-threatening (that’s essential!) conversation about an enjoyable time, some food which also stimulates the PNS and the absence of phones. (Studies have shown a dramatic decline in the quality of conversation when a phone is present, even if no one is looking at it. Our nervous systems perceive them as threats to the connection we are having with the other person.)
Some bad news and some good news to all you squirrels and groundhogs out there… the stress reaction is automatic and we have little control over it (bad news). The relaxation response is harder to bring about (also bad news); BUT the good news is that we can create it once our heads realize we are locked in squirrel-like and groundhog-like desires and we seek out comfortable eye-to-eye and/or voice-to-voice conversation; preferably over a tasty morsel of food.