Stress, anxiety, muscle tension… It can all be overwhelming, especially when piled on top of one another. We all experience these things at one point or another, but when they become a constant state of being, they can impact our daily lives and overall health in a negative way. The culprit? Our nervous system.
The nervous system regulates everything from our heartbeat to our breathing to our cognitive function. When it’s working properly, it helps us respond to stress in healthy ways, which has been a key component in the survival instincts of humans. However, when it’s dysregulated, it can leave us feeling anxious, agitated and/or exhausted.
The good news is that our nervous system is designed to be adaptable and with the right tools and techniques, we can re-regulate it and restore a sense of calm and balance to our lives. In this blog post, we’ll explore some simple and effective ways to do just that! Whether you’re looking to manage anxiety, combat stress, simply feel more relaxed and centered or all above, I’ve got you covered.
So, take a deep breath and let’s dive into the basics of nervous system before looking into the regulation of this complex system.
The Nervous System Explained
First, it’s important to understand the basics of the nervous system and how it works before going further. Our nervous system is responsible for gathering and processing information from our environment and coordinating our body’s response to it. This is an interactive and adaptable system, which can either work for or against us! There are two main parts of our nervous system: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
The central nervous system includes our brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system consists of all the nerves that exist outside of those areas. Together, these two systems work to receive and interpret information from the environment, and to send messages to our muscles and organs to carry out an appropriate response.
When we encounter a stressful or threatening situation, our nervous system kicks into high gear, triggering what’s known as the “fight or flight” response, which is something you’ve likely heard of before. This response is designed to help us survive in dangerous situations, by increasing our heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure and sharpening our senses!
Again, this was absolutely vital for our ancestors in order for us to survive life-threatening things from our environment. However, the further we become separated from nature, these systems do not function properly and often get triggered unnecessarily or they over/under react. That being said, when this response is triggered too frequently or without cause, it can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. That’s where nervous system regulation comes in!
By practicing techniques designed to calm and soothe our nervous system, we can reduce our overall stress levels and improve our overall health and well-being. Like many systems within the body, we can also train them over time to avoid sudden sensational spikes which can lead to anxiety and other uncomfortable symptoms. But enough about the nervous system itself, let’s move onto some of helpful techniques and learn how to re-regulate our nervous system without the use of medications!
Simple Ways to Re-Regulate Your Nervous System
Below, you will find 10 ways to balancing your internal system. Some things will work better for others, so it is important to try out many things and see what works best for you and optimize how you apply said practices to your life. It is not necessarily an easy task to re-regulate, but it is worth it!
This may just be the most accessible, effective and simple/fast way to re-regulate. You can always turn to your breath, no matter where you are. Breathing exercises are a powerful methods of re-regulation. Try taking deep, slow breaths in through your nose, filling up your lungs completely, and then exhaling through your mouth. Focus on extending the exhale longer than the inhale, as this activates the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers relaxation. You can also use free apps or follow free YouTube exercises in the beginning before you get the hang of it.
Something that is tied into breathwork is Yoga! Practising poses or asanas/stretches can also help re-regulate your nervous system. Yoga poses like Child’s Pose, Downward Facing Dog, and Savasana offers a calming effect, allowing you to relax both mentally and physically and are beginner friendly. You do not have to be an advanced or even intermediate Yogi in order to benefit from this practice. Even just a few poses and breaths a day can go a long way in reducing stress levels and centering your mind and body.
3. Body Shaking (Movement is Medicine)
Shaking your body is a natural way to release tension and calm your nervous system. You can try simply shaking your arms, legs, or whole body for a few minutes. This movement-based approach can help release stored energy and improve overall body awareness. You may feel silly at first, but trust me… This works wonders! You know how hitting a broken TV or remote sometimes resets it? Getting up and shaking your body can have a similar effect when you are feeling out of wack. Shake it out and re-calibrate your system.
4. Look around you and ground yourself. What Can You See, Hear, Touch and Smell?
Focusing on multiple senses at once can help bring you into the present moment and reduce stress. Engage your senses intentionally by stopping and taking note of what’s around you. Identify things you can see, smell, touch, and hear. This will help you ground yourself in the present moment and shift your focus from stress or anxiety. One way that you can make a baby stop crying is by giving it multiple things to focus on. For example, you can rock back and forth, pat its back and gently bounce up and down at the same time to get it to relax. We can do the same thing as adults by redirecting what our senses are focusing on.
5. Chest Tapping – Positive Simulation Redirecting
By gently tapping around the chest area, you can stimulate nerve endings and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Tap lightly with your fingertips or with a soft object, such as a softball, for a few moments. Our heart houses over 39 million neurons! By stopping, closing your eyes, taking a breath and gently tapping your chest region, you can calm yourself down, allowing the sensation to leak into other areas of the body.
6. Walking Barefoot on Grass. Also known as “Earthing” or “Grounding”
Connecting with the earth can offer numerous health benefits by lowering cortisol levels, promoting relaxation and aiding sleep. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot on grass or sandy ground every day if possible. This is even backed by Science! Once again, the hippies were right!
7. Listening to Water Trickle or Run
The sound of water can have a calming effect on the body and mind and has been shown to improve mood. Again, this is no new news. Humans have been using the delightful auditory impact of listen to the sound of a natural waterfall or stream as a mediation tool for focus and relaxation. The same goes for other sounds like certain frequencies coming from meditation instruments, eg the singing bowl.
8. Cold Plunges
Exposure to cold water can stimulate the release of endorphins, which activate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress levels. Try taking a cold shower or plunge into cold water to take advantage of this natural stress reliever. This may sound daunting but this will make you feel good 100% of the time. I can guarantee it!
Essential oils can have a calming effect on the nervous system. Try exposing yourself to lavender, chamomile, or ylang-ylang essential oils to help reduce anxiety and stress levels.
10. Supplements (e.g., Adaptogens), Herbs and Teas
Adaptogens, supplements and herbs can help to re-regulate the nervous system by reducing stress levels and allowing the body to adapt to stress. Herbs such as chamomile, ashwagandha, and valerian root offer a soothing effect on the nervous system, while green tea and matcha are packed with L-theanine, which promotes relaxation and calmness. Taking supplements such as Ginkgo Biloba can be helpful as well for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety and sometimes even depression. Lastly, medicinal mushrooms are fantastic adaptogens for re-regulating your mind, body and soul.
If you are experiencing any of these, it is best to steer clear of substances such as coffee, alcohol and energy drinks as they all mess with your nervous system and can have long-lasting effects after years of usage.
Incorporating one or more of these simple practices in your daily routine can help re-regulate your nervous system, reduce stress levels, and improve your overall health and well-being.
As we wrap up our discussion on nervous system regulation, it’s important to remember that stress is a natural part of life. However, if we allow stress to accumulate without finding ways to reduce, prevent, release or manage it, our nervous system can become overstimulated and lead to chronic stress and anxiety. By incorporating simple techniques like the methods we discussed, we can help to re-regulate our nervous system, maintain balance, and reduce stress levels.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to regulating the nervous system. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s essential to listen to your body and find what works best for you. Building regular practice with these techniques can help keep your body and mind calm, centered, and ready to cope with the challenges of daily life.