It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get around to posting here. You could say that things have ‘changed gear’ now that I’m in the latter stages of my PhD. But as it is Mental Health Awareness week I wanted to share something that I’ve pondered over myself, which may be useful to you too.
I was at the BPS Annual Conference recently, and during a talk we were asked to talk about ourselves when we felt ‘at our best’. Some of us found this difficult and uncomfortable (we were saying I’m proud of myself), even more so when reflections were offered from other group members. The term ‘nourishment barrier‘ was brought up. My mind has played around with this idea before but it wasn’t until I did a quick google search that I discovered it actually is a thing.
What is a nourishment barrier?
In simple terms, a nourishment barrier is what it says it is. A way in which nourishment is blocked. Now, this can include nourishment from food, but it includes any area of our lives where we can receive nourishment – or put differently, anything that might feel really good. The fact is, having a nourishment barrier can make looking after ourselves really difficult. From food, exercise, work, fun, love, recreation, studying or rest – whether that comes from yourself or from others. Someone with a nourishment barrier has a real difficult letting in what they need and doing so might lead to outcomes ranging from negative self-talk, discomfort or full-blown anxiety and panic. The bottom line is, someone with a nourishment barrier doesn’t know that it is ok to have needs and it is ok to have these needs met.
Where does a nourishment barrier come from?
There are many theories as to why someone might have a nourishment barrier. It could go back to childhood, where core needs weren’t met and an individual learns that it is not safe, or there is no point in having wants or needs. Yearning does not get met. There is also the issue of society and beliefs that become ingrained, particularly around self-care and nourishment. In some contexts, pushing ourselves to our limits and ‘surviving’ on as little sleep/food/nourishment as possible is seen as success or something to aspire to. We are sometimes expected to be stoic, to plow on with a tough, independent and capable exterior, despite really needing something to nurture and nourish us. For some, letting in nourishment can be viewed as indulgent or selfish, or not as important as other things in life. But why should we be running on half empty, when with some of the good stuff, we could be overflowing?
Finally, for some, the physical sensations and somatic experiences that come with nourishment, such as excitement, pleasure or joy, may feel overwhelming to a bodily system which is already taxed or heightened in some way. This is particularly true for those who have experienced trauma or are especially sensitive.
But there are ways to gently drop the nourishment barrier we may have, and let some of the good stuff in.
How might we begin to drop a nourishment barrier?
- As is so often the case, awareness is key. Particular when it comes to our thoughts. Recognising moments where self-limiting thoughts or beliefs come in and try to hijack experiences that could give us with nourishment is really important. Understanding these beliefs and breaking them down can help to expose them for what they really are, and help us to overcome them or replace them with more positive or true beliefs that are a better representation of what is going on around us. This process can be incredibly difficult, especially if these beliefs stem from challenging or upsetting experiences or very early on in childhood. But noticing them is the first point.
- Another point of awareness is within the body. Noticing how a particular activity or action feels within us can help us to determine what feels good, what feels bad and where we might be limiting ourselves in terms of experiencing and receiving nourishment, whether that be from ourselves or others. Body scans can be really useful for this, there any many online, or you can simply take a moment each morning or throughout the day to place your awareness on all the different areas of your body and see how they feel.
- Developing a safe place where you can explore your barriers and limits to nourishment can be really helpful. This might be creating a space at home where you can give to yourself in whatever way feels good, whilst having the time and privacy to explore and stay with whatever feelings or thoughts may arise. Alternatively, you might opt to approach a professional who can nourish you in some way and help guide you to receive more of this nourishment. By having this safe space, maintaining awareness of thoughts and tapping into your body’s experiences, you can begin to develop your capacity for many things that are nourishing such as pleasure, joy, gratitude and excitement. This is particularly useful for those who have difficulty staying with physical sensations within the body. I’ve been taking part in a course that has helped me to increase my capacity for things that feel good, and it has made my life so much richer and enjoyable, I highly recommend it.
- Taking small steps is important. Running before you can walk might just make that nourishment barrier even stronger. So taking gradual, measured and small steps is a good way to progress with this. It doesn’t have to be difficult or hard work, it can be fun and playful if framed in the right way. A little exploration of your limits and barriers when it comes to letting nourishment in, a journey of discovery towards the things that feel really good and help you function to the best of your ability.
- Finally, a support system is always a good option. Psychological research shows that in almost all difficult or challenging situations, whether that be bereavement, exams, ill-health, trauma or financial difficulties, having a support system can enable more positive outcomes. If you have a close friend who might be the understanding of your quest to overcome your nourishment barrier, maybe tell them what they are doing. If you are very close, you might ask them to reflect back when they notice you might be shutting down or limiting nourishment. Or they might wish to join you on your journey!
Ultimately, we are the ones who live in our bodies and carry our minds around with us all day. There can be a number of reasons why we might not do our best to give or allow nourishment in, but doing so can enable us to be charged up, feeling good and able to conquer whatever it is we need to do. Self-care and nourishment are not luxuries, they are necessities, particularly when under pressure or working hard (i.e. a PhD!). And anyone who argues otherwise, might just have their own nourishment barrier to overcome in their own sweet time. Let them crack on with their views and do things your own way, where nourishment and self-care are welcomed as the gift they are.
Until next time, 🙂