I have often been characterized as a work alcoholic. I thrive on helping people in crisis. Why am I so good at this? Well, I suppose that growing up in a family beset with alcohol, other drugs, and mental health issues prepared me. I was walking on eggshells, always in a hypervigilant state, and always in an “Uptstate”.
According to Dr. Sarah Mednick, all of us are running on a low battery. She says the world is hard. Adulting is hard. Living in Covid is hard. Living takes an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and resources. The pressures bearing down on you from work, finances, family, personal health, not to mention the never-ending barrage of news and social media, are draining.
Most of us live our lives as the human equivalent of smartphones running on 10 percent battery. At any given time, you’re just an hour away from shutting down. You are on low power.
What is “Downstate”?
The “Downstate” is a comprehensive term that refers to a wide range of recovery systems we can tap into on a daily basis to restore our most vital functions at a cellular level. These including giving our heart, brain, and metabolism a rest, repairing overstrained or inflamed tissue and allowing time to process the more complicated business of being human.
Downstate gives us the opportunity to sort through our memories, emotions, carefully made decisions, and Aha Moments. It’s also the time for housecleaning the brain’s toxic byproducts. It’s our opportunity to plug into a metaphorical outlet and power-up.
In Dr. Mednick’s sleep lab, she learned the important role that sleep plays in forming our long-term memories, regulating our emotions, keeping our cardiovascular system healthy, and helping older adults stay alert and agile.
However, sleep is not the only way to recharge -though having regular sleep and exercise schedules can help. The good news is that we can capture the downstate moments at any time of the day by taking our fingers off the keyboard and sinking into a deep breath, taking a walk around the block with a furry friend, or mindfully preparing a meal that will do the body good. Downstates are necessary when you need to recharge and rest from the chaos of the day.
Downstate vs Upstate: We Need Both
Upstates are also necessary. Upstates are for when you go to work, when you are industrious, when you kick ass and take names. For us clinicians and interventionists, it’s when we are giving of our time to help our clients thrive. it’s when your body and mind conspire together to make sure you have enough energy to climb a mountain, to tackle a work assignment, or speak in front of a group. It is these moments you are most resilient to stress. The Upstate changes merely existing become true living. Ironically, this is when the most stress occurs, and our abilities are drained. In order to thrive, we must do a delicate dance between Upstate and Downstates.
Truth is, all plants and animals and humans are resource-limited, so they need to cycle between the Downstate and Upstate to generate power and release it. Whether your goal is to learn to play a musical instrument, play a sport, have more energy for your children or grandchildren, operating at full capacity requires that your tanks get refilled as frequently as possible.
The Downstate is where that happens.
The “Downstate” is the way humans take a break, but it often comes in the most unexpected ways It could be:
- a powerful, uplifting client session,
- a challenging mountain climb,
- falling into a deep conversation with a friend
- taking a nature walk
- making time for writing, creative thinking, art, enjoying smoothies, or listening to the raindrops
As behavioral health professionals, we know all too well how important it is to include Downstates within our centers, somatic experiencing therapy, experiential therapies, etc. Yet too often we are so busy taking care of others that we forget how to nurture our own downstate.
Given that you are probably in a feverous Upstate much of the time, please share how you dance between the two and how you help your clients do the same.