Hunkered-down Groundhogs


The last time I wrote about groundhogs it was when they were digging for all they were worth to get away from the madness of the squirrel. Under the circumstances that was a healthy thing for the groundhog to do. However, it is possible for all of us, when day after day is filled with the same old news, same old people, same old boring conversations, to just want to find a good old hole and stay there…forever. It’s the “forever” that’s a problem. Retreating to a nice warm hole is good now and then; it’s when we don’t have an ounce of energy to pull ourselves out of it that it’s a problem.

Fortunately all it takes is a few minutes to give our systems a chance to take in a little comfort that makes it ok enough to poke our little noses out into the afternoon sunshine and smell the breeze wafting over the new shoots of clover.

Option 1 – Ask yourself, “Who in my extended family ‘gets me’ most?” Once you’ve got that person (grandparent, aunt, uncle) in mind give them a call. Yes, a phone call, or better still a video call. That’s so you can have a real, live conversation that will make you feel better than a kazillion texts. Ask them to tell you about a time when they overcame a difficult situation, or just chat.

Option 2 – Here’s an exercise I mentioned for earlier for squirrels. It also works for groundhogs but I’ll explain that in the science section.

Brain Stem Release – This is also a simple exercise. It involves clasping your hands behind the head and then holding your gaze off to both the left and right sides of your body. Please see the following video

Option 3 – Right there in your little hole do some simple stretching. If you think you can do 5 min. of it here’s a link: Don’t let the word “yoga” throw you off. These are just stretches and “yin yoga” is just a form of stretching that is absolutely perfect to start with. If you feel a little better when you finish, go for a walk to the end of your block and back, but only if you want to.


Want to know some of the science behind this?

We’re going back to the Autonomic Nervous System and the Polyvagal Theory in particular. The vagus nerve is the super nerve of the body. It runs from the brain to the intestines and impacts the heart and lungs along the way. “Poly” stands for many, or in this case, the three bundles of fibres playing three different roles in the vagus nerve. The first bundle (Sympathetic) is ready for fight or flight. The second (Dorsal Vagal) activates the immobility response which may include feelings of overwhelm, helplessness and paralysis. The third (Ventral Vagal) is the most recently evolved system which exists only in humans and mammals. It supports our ability to be socially engaged and comfortable in our own skins. When we are hunkered-down groundhogs we have an over abundance of dorsal vagal activity.

Option 1 – By talking with someone in our family who “gets us” we are stimulating our Ventral Vagal nerve. But here’s the kicker – texting doesn’t soothe the system the way talking with a loved one does. One study that supports this had placed teenagers in stressful situations then had one group text their parents, while the other group called their parents on the phone. Only the ones in the group who called had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood.

Option 2 – The Brainstem Release creates better movement in the neck, which improves the circulation of blood to the brainstem. This in turn improves the function of the ventral branch of the vagus nerve.

Option 3 – Movement, especially if it is rapid, activates the sympathetic branch of the vagus nerve. So going for a run is the best way to get out of a hunkered-down groundhog state, but that is an AWFUL LOT to ask when you have zero energy, so just go easy on yourself and stretch just a little to see if that makes you feel a tad better. Then tomorrow stretch just a little more.

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