Stress, Overwhelm, and the Central Nervous System
Many of us experience situations in our lives every now and then that feel stressful and chaotic. I don’t know about you, but when this starts to happen to me, I “freak out” a little bit!
I’m a Taurus Sun and Moon, so my comfort zone is just that — a comfort zone. When lots of external factors and influences start to push me out of “feeling comfortable,” or as though it’s “just one thing after another” — things can start to feel overwhelming, fast.
Feelings of stress and overwhelm can activate our central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. When activated, the central nervous system also triggers the body’s physiological responses — including raising the heart rate, tightening muscles, shortening the breath, and making us feel a bit sick to our stomach.
When my nervous system is activated, it opens the door for many different physical sensations and symptoms. It’s in times like this that Calming Cards can be a huge help in identifying the underlying cause of my stress, and guiding me toward the path of nervous system regulation and healing.
(Let me be clear —Calming Cards are not intended to offer medical advice or medical diagnoses.)
If you can relate to these feelings, know that you’re not alone. Perhaps for you, these physical sensations are the result of anger, frustration, fear, or disappointment.
If you’re able to identify and work through those feelings as they arise, you can let them pass through your system like clouds. But, if you hold on to those feelings for too long — that’s when the trouble starts. The more those feelings build up inside, the faster a storm can generate.
Before it gets to that — let’s take it back to the beginning and see how Tarot can help.
What are Calming Cards?
Calming Cards can help us process difficult emotions healthily and more easily, allowing us to re-regulate our nervous systems in times of chaos. Calming Cards help us to alleviate emotional stress by allowing us to tune in, understand “negative” emotions better, and create the space we need to process them in healthy ways.
It’s important to note that this is true for emotions that you are experiencing personally, and emotions that you may experience via other people. It’s not uncommon for Tarot readers to be highly empathetic, which is why it’s so important for us to learn how to process all kinds of feelings in healthy, constructive ways.
How to Use Calming Cards
If your nervous system is overloaded or activated, pick up your Tarot cards, give them a shuffle, and draw a card. Don’t worry about trying to center your energy or tune in just yet; though this may seem counterintuitive as a Tarot reader, the point is to draw a card in the midst of emotional chaos.
The first card you draw represents your underlying emotional state. It could represent how you’re feeling in the moment, something you wish you could change or achieve, or the overall energy of the situation or problem you’ve found yourself facing. Whatever it is, it’s a reflection of the chaotic energy you’re experiencing. It could reflect the energy of one feeling or situation, or it could represent a combination of several different things all happening at once.
The point is that this card gives you a “general read” on your underlying energy — and the reason your nervous system is activated — as it is in this moment.
Now that you’ve drawn your first card, take a moment (preferably somewhere quiet and private) and close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Feel the air traveling up through your nose and deep down into your lungs, and allow your diaphragm to expand. As you breathe out, notice how the air feels as it travels up through your airway, past your lips, and out into the world. As you repeat these breaths, allow your attention to settle into your body.
Continue breathing and begin to scan your body. Direct your attention first to the tips of your toes, then to your feet, ankles, shins, calves, knees, thighs — all the way up through your body to the crown of your head. Notice if there are any sensations of tightness, irritation, pain, or vibration in any muscles, joints, or extremities.
Ask yourself: Which emotion comes with this sensation? When I concentrate on this sensation, which feelings come to the surface? If I had to describe these feelings in one word, what would it be?
When you're ready, open your eyes. Pick up your Tarot cards again, and reflect on the sensations you’ve identified in your body. Give the cards a shuffle, and draw a second card.
This card is the advice you need to move through the emotion you’re experiencing, re-regulate your nervous system, and release the physical symptoms.
Understanding Calming Cards and Their Purpose
As I said earlier — these cards are not intended to offer medical advice or psychological diagnoses. Rather, Calming Cards are a way to bring your attention back to the present, connect with your physical body, and help you interpret the signals that your nervous system is sending you.
Using Tarot in this way is not a cure or a catch-all; it’s simply a mindfulness practice. It’s a way to create some distance between your thoughts, your emotions, and your physical responses, so you can catch your breath and begin to work through your feelings one-by-one. There are many other meditative techniques that can help to achieve the same purpose — and if they resonate with you more, I encourage you to work with them.
If you’d like to explore some other ways to use Tarot for mindfulness, check out my blog post Everyday Tarot for Trying Times and Finding Hope. In this post, I share a different mindfulness technique using Tarot, as well as an alternative take on the Daily Card Draw that’s specific to finding and generating more hope in the world. (And goodness knows, we could all do with a little more of that!)
If you do want to try the Calming Cards technique for regulating your nervous system, I’d love to hear your insights! Tag #biddytarot on Instagram so I can see.