Each year I observed Mom's decline I found more habits that I needed to reprogram. Each reflection of childhood moments when I expressed hatred for my parents' decisions, was a realization that they did the best they could with the tools they had at the time. My father did not seek therapy until his mid-60s. The emotional weight from their divorce after 37 years of marriage added to his Vietnam guilt. His health choices as he aged came from the lack of hope, purpose, and basic health understanding.
On the other hand, Mom began having behavioral issues that were all determined to be manic-depressive bipolar due to a chemical imbalance, which was treated with medication. If the doctors knew about her history of sexual trauma and extreme sweet tooth, I would think a different therapy would have been provided. However, Mom opposed therapy because her family believed it would only show the world how broken you are on the inside. Talk therapy was a waste of time and money for Mom. Instead, she became a functionally depressed professional with a smile.
It makes so more sense now to me as an adult how we did not see the signs of early-onset Dementia until her mid-40s. Besides the fact that we see what we want to see, her nervous system has been out of balance since she experienced sexual trauma as a teenager. She was doing her best to get by as a teacher, wife, and mother, and all along, her brain was slowly deteriorating. Her will to survive was strong, but her ability to do so healthily was self-sabotaged.
As a child, I did not see my parent's sacrifices for me and my siblings to have food, clothing, shelter, and opportunities to attend extracurricular activities for our personal growth. I could only remember two people struggling to communicate and having sufficient energy to make it through their workday, but not as much for us as we all got older.
Now as I reflect on areas that could have made a difference, I see the loss in their belief system as life experiences became too much to bear without healthy coping skills. I see moments of pride and reluctance to ask for help. I see emotional trauma treated with alcohol and junk food. Decades of demise because their nervous systems were out of balance and contributed to early aging, diabetes, heart disease, and Dementia.
There were so many moments that did not make sense to me growing up. So much left us reacting with hurtful communication because of our epigenetics. So many dismiss diseases based on their genetic makeup, but epigenetics are the study of how our behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work. How we communicated, our sleep patterns, food cravings, and how we coped with life challenges all affected whether specific harmful genes were turned on or left dormant.
Although my parents relocated us away from where they were raised in the Bronx of New York in hopes of providing a better future, their fear-based behaviors created a reality they thought they were avoiding. They learned to live in states of high stress, followed by poor nutrition choices.
The National Institute of Health explains our nervous system plays a role in nearly every aspect of our health and well-being. This complex yet delicate system wakes us in the morning and automatically regulates activities such as breathing without our deliberate control. This system helps us think, read, recall memory, and feel emotions.
If you struggle with any of the following areas, a visit to a neurologist is warranted. A lifestyle change could be the simple answer, or a more in-depth treatment may be needed.
The roles controlled by our nervous system include:
Brain growth and development
Sensations of touch or hearing
Perception via interpreting sensory information
Thought and emotions
Learning and memory
Movement, balance, coordination
Healing and rehabilitation
Stress and our response to Stress
Breathing and heartbeat
Hunger, thirst, and digestion
Puberty, reproductive health, and fertility
With all the talk about a healthy lifestyle, many may simplify this to eating more salads and exercising. While those are two very beneficial areas to start with on your caregiver journey, they are pieces to a much larger puzzle. This complex system reacts to changes inside and outside of our body.
Our brain is roughly 5 pounds of tissue, nerves, and brain matter that oversees bodily functions while contributing to our consciousness and personality. Vertebrae in our spine protect our spinal cord connected to the brain with nerve branches into the arms, legs, and torso. Illnesses such as epilepsy, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Sciatica, Shingles, and stroke are caused by malfunctioning brains.
Every little detail matters when it comes to managing the complex system our human form demands. Here are some steps you can take to keep your nervous system healthy:
Exercise on a daily basis. Your regimen does not have to be robust because we’re not training for a marathon. Although, variety will help you stay passionate about daily movement.
Get plenty of sleep. Uninterrupted restorative rest is vital. Your body detoxes during this time which helps the central nervous system and aids your ability to learn and recall. If your sleep patterns do not support this, start making changes.
Get daily exposure to natural sunlight. Ten minutes every morning can boost your nervous system and help your body obtain vitamin D. Studies show it helps reduce many health conditions.
Begin meditating or up your current meditation practices. This daily practice will help you regulate your heart rate and blood pressure and calm your nerves. Up your game by meditating in a sauna or out in nature.
Walk barefoot. Also known as grounding is significant to humanity. Meditating with bare feet on earth helps to improve sleep, normalize biological rhythms, and increase your senses.
Drink natural green tea. It helps with serotonin levels, but skip the artificially sweetened teas with yellow #5 ingredients. Research green teas in your area to find suitable brands over conveniently processed or cheap brands.
BE MINDFUL of the food you eat. The more whole foods such as vegetables, fresh fruits, seeds, legumes, and quinoa you can get into your daily nutrition, the more you will support your systems and maintain a healthy gut.