Mar 17, 2023 | Your Self

Activating Our Parasympathetic Nervous System to Facilitate Change

Making decisions from a grounded place is difficult when feeling stressed and living in a fight or flight response, a state induced by the sympathetic nervous system, but we’re often encouraged to tap into the discomfort we’re feeling in order to make positive change. What if we have it backwards? In this article, you’ll read about my own personal experience with this in my coaching practice and learn how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress, tap into your higher self and make positive changes in your life.

Making Positive Change – an Action-Based vs. Reflection-Based Approach

I’ve been reflecting a lot on change and transformation of late and how we as coaches facilitate growth.

Having been an executive life coach and former coach trainer for a decade now, this is certainly not a new conversation for me to be in with clients or with myself.

Some of my fundamental beliefs about facilitating change have evolved quite a bit.

And I don’t see coaches talking about or prioritizing this in their work with clients nearly enough.

As coaches, we have a responsibility to reflect who our clients are being in their lives and businesses. We also reflect whether those ways of being are in service of or in the way of what our clients want.

We look through the lens of what subconscious thoughts, beliefs, fears, and stories are holding our clients and ourselves back.

Here’s where my ‘aha’ really hit me though…

I’ve been re-reading many of my recent newsletters and noticing something. I often offer practices that to my ears seem tactically-oriented vs mindset-focused.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that per-se.

But as a mindset coach, it struck me as a bit odd. Why was I prioritizing action-based practices rather than reflection-oriented ones?

It made me question what was driving this motivation. And that’s when it hit me…

We are oriented towards growth and transformation more easily and more ease-fully by first prioritizing our fundamental personal, relational, emotional, spiritual, and environmental alignment.

What do I mean here?

Easing the discomfort of resistance with the parasympathetic nervous system

Change and transformation is fundamentally uncomfortable and outside of our comfort zones. This is often why we hire coaches in the first place. Coaches champion our dreams in the face of our fear and resistance.

But often fear and resistance are louder than our dreams…

This is normal and why coaches can be so helpful in both reminding us and holding us to goals. Coaches remind us of our declarations in the face of overwhelm, procrastination, comparisonitis, perfectionism, etc.

What we forget though is that we also simultaneously experience greater resistance around what we most deeply desire.

The more important the goal, the louder the voice of resistance and our inner critic is likely to get in the way.  This is one of the best books I’ve read on the topic of fear and resistance being one and the same.

Our sympathetic nervous systems are more likely to prepare the body for the ‘fight or flight’ response when we lean into the edge of our comfort zone. This is naturally something we must do in order to grow and transform. We must be willing to engage with the activities outside of our comfort zones in order to grow and evolve.

But we can facilitate this process so that it’s not as ‘painful’ or resistance-laden by first reconnecting with our parasympathetic nervous systems. This helps prevent us from overworking and restoring us to a calm and composed state.

This is important because when we are acting from a calm and composed state, we are more capable of engaging with ‘risky’ or ‘uncomfortable’ action than when we are operating from fight or flight.

Which brings me back to this…

We are oriented towards growth and transformation more easily and more ease-fully by first prioritizing our fundamental personal, relational, emotional, spiritual, and environmental alignment.

When we hear the words sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, we often think about yoga or meditation where these terms are frequently referenced.

Here are two other places to look to help activate your parasympathetic nervous system if you don’t already have a meditation or yoga practice in place:


Activate your parasympathetic nervous system by taking stock of your environment

A big contributor to the level of discomfort or stress you experience on a daily basis is the environment in which you live and work, so by improving your environment, you can make a big impact on helping to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and bring yourself into a more peaceful feeling of alignment.

Now this may not be easy if you take stock and realize you’re a small-town person living in a big city. However, can you buy more plants, or take day trips to the countryside, or perhaps visit with family more often? Earlier this year, I fell in love with the work of bell hooks. One lesson she really brings home in her book, All About Love: New Visions is how important it is to be in a community where you feel in communion with others and with your environment.

This lesson is also a deeply personal one for me. When my husband and I relocated to Massachusetts after having lived in Washington DC for the past decade, we realized how unhappy we had been living there. We can jumpstart growth simply by changing up our environment in big or small ways! Ask yourself this weekend, “how can I bring my environment even more in alignment with what I want for my life?


Encourage parasympathetic nervous system activation by bringing more joy and cheer into your life

Whether it’s a holiday or any day, laughter and glee help us activate our parasympathetic nervous systems. Have you heard of laughter therapy? It’s a real thing because it works! When we are doing things we love, prioritizing spending time with people we care about, change isn’t quite as uncomfortable. Ask yourself this weekend, “what can I prioritize to infuse more joy and cheer into my life?”

Curious what impact coaching can have, here’s what Jackie had to say about her experience:

Cat is an extraordinary, heart-centered coach who has a gifted way of seeing directly into your heart and helping you get in touch with your innermost passion and joy fulfilling path. She is a true model of what coaching is all about. She helped me identify years worth of BS that I’d hidden from myself. I felt liberated and full of possibilities while working with Cat and highly, highly recommend her.

She’s non-judgmental and also willing to challenge you when you need a gentle nudge. I’m a better coach, leader and entrepreneur after having worked with Cat. She also helped me celebrate more and invest in my happiness and self-care in a way that is refreshing and sustainable. What a joy!

If you’re looking for a thought partner or coach to support you in developing your self-leadership, schedule a call with us to explore what’s possible. We have a team of highly trained and certified coaches. Let us support you in reclaiming your joy, sustaining your vision and elevating your impact.

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Exploring Sensitive Leadership with Nina Khoo

On this week’s episode of the Prosperous Empath®, we’ll explore how to effectively lead as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), mitigate challenges, and work with your strengths. I’m thrilled to sit down with Nina Khoo, a Sensitive Leadership Coach and a Master NLP Coach who helps HSPs understand and embrace their unique wiring so they can become confident and empathetic leaders. It’s common for Highly Sensitive People to believe that they’re not capable of effective leadership and struggle with overwhelm, perfectionism, and second-guessing. Nina and I uncover how our greatest strengths can sometimes be the traits we feel most self-conscious about and pose a central question: How does a Highly Sensitive Person protect their gifts as a leader? As an empath and an HSP, your brain is physiologically wired to take more information in and process it more deeply, which can be an incredibly powerful leadership skill. Yet, it can also lead to overwhelm and self-criticism. Through our conversation, you’ll learn how to approach leadership in a more sensitive, empathetic, and compassionate way so you can own your gifts and make a bigger difference in the world  

Visit this episode’s show notes page here.

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