My healing journey with nervous system regulation!

Catherine LifeDesign healed through nervous system regulation, brain retraining, adult main personality growth and EMDR therapy.

Published 25th August 2023 in Category: Nervous System

Nervous system regulation saved my life!

There is no other way to say it: regulating my nervous system saved my life. But let's start at the beginning. I'm lying in bed, surrounded by darkness. I'm in pain, I'm crying, I can't take it anymore. My thoughts are spiralling, "I don't think I'll survive this." For years, I haven't been feeling well, but over the past few months, it's been unbearable, bedridden, lonely, and now depressed. No one understands what's happening to me, least of all me. I'm way too young for this.

That was my life, and these were my symptoms:

👆 Excerpt from the EnergyFlow programme 👆

Spoiler Alert: I am symptom-free today! 😍 And with that, I want to give you hope and courage. Whether you have one of these symptoms or twice as many, yes, you can and will lead a normal life again. It is possible to free yourself from these and similar symptoms. 

Please read on.

Diagnoses & Symptoms Began Slowly...

So, what happened? Symptoms began to accumulate. I had a perfectly normal life before... probably just like you. Yes, there were occasional challenges, setbacks, and nights of poor sleep. But my problems slowly started piling up. I consistently woke up early, rarely refreshed, and often had neck pain — seemingly inconspicuous things. And often, these don't necessarily lead to chronic illnesses. Procrastination, self-doubt, and perfectionism were also frequent visitors. Why am I mentioning this? Because I now firmly believe that these coping mechanisms are early signs of behaviours ingrained in our nervous system, which can later lead to diseases. Note the words "can" and "coping mechanisms," as I'll explain more later.

Then came a severe but otherwise unremarkable viral infection, followed by a miscarriage/hormonal chaos two years later, and a random diagnosis: "Autoimmune disease: Hashimoto's." At first, I laughed and said, "But I feel fine; I think this diagnosis is nonsense."

My "Perfect Storm"

What I wasn't familiar with at the time was the term "perfect storm." It's the moment when multiple systems in the body fall like dominoes — such as the immune system, digestion, the hormonal system, nervous system, adrenal glands, limbic system, and so on.

Later, in retrospect, I realised I had experienced a perfect storm. It began with a panic attack (I had never had one before) and ended in a breakdown from which I wouldn't recover for several months. This is the last photo before my perfect storm.

👆 Excerpt from the EnergyFlow programme 👆

When Healthy Living Is No Longer Enough

Of course, even before my perfect storm, I had tried to "turn the ship around". I regularly had my thyroid levels checked, delved into functional and alternative medicine, ate healthily, tried celery juice cleanses, detoxed, replenished nutrients to heal deficiencies, tried acupuncture, medicinal mushrooms, reiki, meditation, mindfulness, and so much more. And guess what? I'd love to say it healed me, but apart from the occasional slight improvements that often faded after the initial euphoria... it did nothing noteworthy to remedy my situation (now I know why).

Initial Worsening and the First Turning Point

Six months after my breakdown, I finally had an appointment with a renowned functional medicine practitioner. I flew from Cyprus (my home) to Berlin for this. We completely overhauled my diet, which caused so much physical stress that my nervous system crashed completely — I couldn't sleep for a week. I was utterly devastated and more desperate than ever. A neighbour and friend, who was a doctor herself and suffered from multiple chronic illnesses, told me about "Brain Retraining" for the first time. I thought, "Brain what?" I enrolled in an American course called DNRS and began with Brain Retraining. Within hours/days, I felt significantly better, had calmed my nervous system, and started sleeping somewhat normally again. After 1-2 months, I felt overall much better, my energy increased, and my symptoms decreased.

But Then It Got Worse Again

My nervous system began to find new defenses against Brain Retraining, and I felt enormous resistance to the exercises that, according to the course instructor, I should do for at least an hour a day. With this resistance, my condition deteriorated again until my neck and back pain became so severe that I couldn't stand, walk, OR lie down anymore and had no idea what to do. Fear of setbacks led to anxiety and panic, and eventually, depression took hold. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel anymore. The sad part was that even my partner, who had taken care of me for the past two years — turning from a partner into caregiver, cook, sole breadwinner, masseuse, therapist, physiotherapist and more — couldn't continue. He was too exhausted, and separation was imminent.

In a last desperate attempt to turn the tide, I went to see a doctor who admitted me to a psychosomatic hospital, where they could address both my physical and emotional symptoms. My partner got some relief, and I was nurtured back to health. Honestly, in the past, I would have been ashamed to say that I was in hospital; today, I sing its praises. Because it was one of the best experiences I've ever had (message me if you want the name of the clinic that restored my faith in humanity 😍). At the clinic, I also received another new diagnosis: "complex post-traumatic stress disorder" (cPTSD),  in short, trauma. Me... suffering from trauma? I couldn't believe it at first. Yes I had some difficulties during my teenage years but that was such a long time ago and long forgotten. Little did I know that what I had experienced at the hands of my narcissistic stepdad would be classed as severe emotional abuse. 

This diagnosis alone helped me better understand the timing and sequence of my breakdowns and the subsequent flare-up of all my symptoms.

The Ultimate Turning Point

But the ultimate turning point came through a video on Instagram. Yes, I know, unbelievable, right? Because I heard about NERVOUS SYSTEM REGULATION for the first time! One tool for nervous system regulation is SOMATIC MOVEMENT. I was in the middle of a severe emotional flashback and in a true "god moment" decided to try it out. For the FIRST TIME in my life I managed to intercept and turn around an intense trauma response. All alone! In the middle of the night! At the hospital! From an Instagram video! I was ecstatic. I felt better every day. I participated in all the therapies and measures in the hospital, but I also started to practice somatic movement exercises independently to regulate my nervous system. After a month I was discharged from the hospital and I pursued further training (called PrimalTrust) to continue regulating my nervous system. I began combining it with vagus nerve training and brain retraining. These tools COMBINED worked incredibly well together. I hadn't felt this good in a long time.

Nervous System Regulation and Brain Retraining Saved My Life!

My 2-3 year-long odyssey and desperate search for health were the hardest thing I ever had to endure. And I know people who have been chronically ill for 10, 15 years, which is what my future was set to be if I hadn't found these tools. 

Fast forward to 4 months later. I have managed to FREE myself from over 30+ symptoms and am living a normal life again!! In just 4 months!

  • I sleep like a baby.
  • My Hashimotos' is in remission (antibodies are GONE, I'm symptom-free, energetic, and my thyroid seems to be functioning more efficiently).
  • I am resilient again.
  • I have returned to work fully!
  • My digestion and immune system are back on track.
  • My impending insulin resistance (which would likely have been my next diagnosis) has completely reversed with excellent blood test results... no sign of problems!
  • Most of my food intolerances and nutrient deficiencies are resolved (because thanks to nervous system regulation my body can actually absorb nutrients and supplements).
  • I am COMPLETELY free from depression and panic attacks (even though shortly after those initial 4 months a beloved family member died... which would have plunged me into a downward spiral before).

  • Anxiety symptoms have also COMPLETELY disappeared and when I experience a scary moment, I know immediately what to do.

  • Even my skin is improving, becoming more flexible and elastic.

  • And most of all: I am happy, energetic and live a NORMAL life again!

What I Know Today:

Our limbic system (one of the oldest areas in our brain, which all other mammals, reptiles, etc., also have) is responsible for our survival.
Our amygdala (in the limbic brain) is our alarm centre. It decides whether we are in danger or not (doesn't matter if it's real or perceived danger).

This signal is relayed to our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which controls everything that runs autonomously, such as heart rate, digestion, the immune system, hormones, etc.

In our everyday lives we fluctuate between two primary states: 




(*Fawn is a kind of "people pleasing" state to secure our survival).

As the names suggest, in the Fight / Flight state, our body prepares for combat or flight, with an increased heart rate, faster breathing, and tense muscles. In contrast, in Rest / Digest, the muscles relax, the heart rate slows down, the digestive system is in full operation, and the body repairs itself (e.g., ideally healing wounds sustained during "fight").

Fight / Flight can be triggered by many things in today's hectic world. Since there are no longer saber-toothed tigers lurking behind bushes, it's more likely to get triggered due to things like a mean comment from a colleague, a reckless driver cutting us off, financial pressure, worries about children... BUT also a silent infection after a root canal, a past viral infection (e.g., Covid), a hormonal imbalance, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, etc.

And here comes the most important statement of my entire healing journey - if you take away only one thing, let it be this insight:

We do NOT digest or heal in Fight / Flight mode! 

That's right! When our body is in Fight / Flight state, all other non-essential systems are shut down at that moment!!! After all, the body is preparing for a (survival) battle. It releases a tremendous amount of stress hormones and requires a huge amount of energy. It obtains this energy by shutting down digestion, even parts of the brain, such as our rational thinking in the prefrontal cortex (which is why we can't think rationally when we are in fear and panic), it also ignores sex hormones for reproduction (first, we have to survive, then we can think about that...), and even wounds and inflammations are not "repaired" at that moment. Our bodies save all of that for later.

But what if we don't return to Rest / Digest? Chronic stress happens, that's what! And this has very little to do with feeling stressed. I didn't feel "stressed" at all during the time I was sick. I wasn't doing anything any more anyway.

What happens when we get stuck in Fight / Flight

So what if we get stuck in Fight / Flight... for example, due to a silent infection, emotional trauma, or something as common as hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy or menopause? Then our body has to make adaptations to cope with that prolonged stress. This usually leads to impairments in the limbic system (e.g., a chronically overstimulated amygdala, which can manifest as an anxiety disorder and depression) and a dysregulated nervous system (e.g., autoimmune diseases, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, etc.)

How does healing work?

So, what can we do? BEFORE all other measures (like supplements, juice cleanses, most (alternative) medical treatments etc.) can take effect, we must regulate our nervous system and calm our limbic brain. Especially for anxiety disorder, we must recalibrate the alarm system in our amygdala. When our amygdala believes we are in danger and constantly triggers Fight / Flight or doesn't exit Fight / Flight mode, it is an ABSOLUTE BREEDING GROUND for all diseases to become chronic. Don't forget that our bodies shut down our immune systems to a bear minimum, in order to have enough energy for an imminent fight or flight. So no matter what diseases or symptoms we have or how they were originally triggered, a resilient nervous system that can return to Rest / Digest is essential in healing... well ANYTHING!

We can take as many vitamins and medications as we want, but if the gut can't absorb them because it's shut down, the active ingredients can't reach their destination because the endocrine system isn't functioning properly. In that case we can't heal - with or without medication or therapies.

When we get our nervous system out of the constant Fight / Flight state and start to retrain our limbic brain, THEN other measures (supplements, physiotherapy etc.) can suddenly start working as well... and most of the time, we no longer need pills, powders, or celery juice remedies because the body starts healing and repairing itself. It goes back to doing its natural job!

Of course, I'm a big fan of supporting our bodies, whether it's with supplements, all forms of conventional and alternative medical treatments... from reiki, meditation, massages to aromatherapy, progesterone, whatever supplements to resolve deficiencies. So it's never an "either / or" situation.  If I know one thing, it's that everyone is different, and I only say, "never change a winning team or running system." If something works for you, definitely keep doing it.

How can you start regulating your nervous system?

First and foremost, it's a completely natural process that we go through constantly. Our body goes into Fight / Flight and back into Rest / Digest every day. That's entirely normal. As mentioned before, it only becomes problematic when you get stuck in Fight / Flight, and the tragic thing is that we often don't even notice it (like I said, I didn't feel stressed). To find out if your nervous system is affected, you can start by taking the nervous system test HERE. It provides a rough assessment of whether and how much you are affected.

Take the nervous system test!

Does your nervous system block your success (and health)? Do you procrastinate, feel exhausted easily, are highly sensitive, suffer from anxiety or ADHD? Check in with your nervous system and find out!

I credit 100% of my healing to 5 changes/tools:

  1. Nervous system regulation
  2. Brain Retraining
  3. Healthy adult self coaching (also sometimes called adult main personality)
  4. EMDR therapy
  5. Physical training (weight training... once I had the energy)

I've already talked about nervous system regulation a lot but not really about what it is or what it does. So I will introduce the tools 1-3 briefly here. All 3 help you to establish new functional patterns, reprocess stored and suppressed emotions and overwrite old obsolete coping and survival mechanisms from your past / childhood. EMDR therapy (or Somatic Experiencing) is great to heal deep wounds such as trauma or attachment wounding (which would be too much by ourselves) and weight training (once I had kicked Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and had my energy back) was fabulous to grow resiliency ("I can do so much more than I thought I could") and of course to get my physical strength back. Consider these additions if you are on your own healing journey.

But, here we go, here are my favourite 3 tools ❤️

1) Nervous System Regulation 

That’s effectively creating capacity in our nervous system by increasing our window of tolerance. A great example for that is somatic movement. If a gazelle gets hunted by a lion and escapes it sends a clear signal to the brain once the danger is over by slowing down and shaking the body. Almost as if to shake off the chase. The brain then goes from Fight/Flight mode into Rest/Repair mode. The problem is: In our modern lives we rarely go into Rest/Repair anymore, because we are constantly ON and in some sort of Fight/Flight mode. So what can we do? When we notice, “oh shit this feels uncomfortable, I’m starting to go into Fight/Flight mode, I'm getting frustrated, angry, procrastinating, feeling overwhelmed etc... then you could just…. shake (like the gazelle). Add a great physiological sigh "aaaaahhh" to that and you are already sending 2 signals to your brain that you are SAFE despite the challenge. This is called bottom up regulation, where you are not "thinking" your way out of danger but using the body to send signals of safety and calm to the brain.

2) Neuroplasticity - Brain Retraining 

The second tool is neuroplasticity… and a method called Brain Retraining. The good news is, that yes your brain has learned a long time ago that something is a danger, but neuroplasticity also means we can unlearn it, if we consciously work on that response pattern. So every time we notice we are doing a certain behaviour or we feel a certain symptom we can for example say, “stop, stop, stop” or “not helpful, not helpful, cancel”. We then follow a certain technique / steps to rewire that situation / behaviour / symptom in order to show our brain to not flag it as dangerous anymore. This is by far the most awesome and effective tool I have ever learned in my life. Because once the amygdala realises, “ok, so actually that’s not so dangerous, we don’t need to ring the alarm”, it also doesn’t tell the thalamus anymore to respond physically. I have healed many even physical symptoms like that including back and neck pain, general muscle tension, inflammation, gut issues and so much more.

2) Healthy Adult Self - Reparenting Your Nervous System

And the third one is reparenting your nervous system by increasing the capacity of your adult main personality. Oh my goodness I seriously came out a changed person from this one. My personality structures changed completely. Where previously I would have automatically responded with, “oh no, what’s wrong now again, how can I fix this?”, I would now respond with, “ok, interesting, I’m loving a good challenge and I am going to make the most of it”. Change with capital C.

Learn All The Basics About Your Nervous System & Limbic Brain

Once I started to understand how I work, how my patterns and coping mechanisms respond, I was fascinated... BUT most of all I could understand and CHANGE them.

That's why I put together my nervous system BASICS course "Aware". 

It includes ALL the backgrounds, insights from neuroscientific research, my personal story etc., for you to understand your OWN patterns, emotional blocks, and even chronic symptoms, fatigue and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. It's nothing short of mind-blowing once you understand how you function and how you can ultimately thrive with your nervous system and limbic brain being your greatest advocates not adversaries.

"Aware" is valued at € 222 - believe me, I have personally invested tens of thousands of Euros just to acquire the understanding and knowledge of my chronic symptoms - but I'm giving it away for only € 55. Because I want AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE to have access to this life-changing knowledge. My valued blog readers can access the course at an even more insane discount of -40%. Simply use coupon code "BLOG40" at checkout.

"Aware" - mind-blowing nervous system insights!

The biggest aha moment was when I realised how much sense my protective mechanisms and even my chronic symptoms made! Get years of my research distilled into a 5 part video course.

Aware EnergyFlow course mock up


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