What if we told you things like chronic pain, brain fog, emotional bluntness, hypervigilance, anxiety, immune system dysfunction, trouble sleeping and relaxing, and feelings of being overwhelmed and hopelessness are all signs of an overactive nervous system? Would it make you take another look at the amount of stress in your life and how you’re going about minimizing said stress?
Well, it should.
Stress is how our bodies respond to pressure, and those same bodies have developed a sophisticated system to cope with it. That sophisticated system is the nervous system. But with all of the stress thrown at us through our work, our relationships, and our lives, it can be easy to understand why stress has become the default setting for so many.
The problem with making stress your default is that your chances of having an overworked nervous system increase. Your body could also enter a state of chronic stress, leading to an overactive “fight or flight” response. Nervous system dysregulation occurs when this response becomes chronic or fails to shut off after the perceived threat is gone and can lead to the body believing it’s in a state of danger at all times.
While the stress response is essential for survival, it's not meant to be active all the time, and an overactive one can lead to various health issues. Stress isn’t called a “silent killer” for nothing. This is due to the influx of stress hormones and high cortisol levels that cause the eventual disruption of major bodily processes and make you more susceptible to depression and anxiety, among other health problems.
Leading a truly healthy lifestyle is the difference between an overworked nervous system and a calm one. The latter is a crucial aspect of maintaining overall well-being, and it can positively impact your healing and wellness journey because you can’t really heal in a body that’s chronically stressed. As “the father of mindfulness,” Thích Nhất Hạnh once said, “Stopping, calming, and resting are preconditions for healing.”
A calm nervous system can be achieved through resetting your nervous system, just follow the practices below consistently with care.
Table of Contents
How To Reset & Heal Your Nervous System
Deep breaths can work wonders in a stressful situation. Spend a few minutes each day focusing on your breath, practicing mindfulness, and calming your mind. The reason deep breathing is such a powerful tool to usher in calm is that it activates the other part of your nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Unlike your SNS and its stress hormone-filled “fight or flight” response, the PNS functions in a way that is opposite but complementary to the SNS and is responsible for “rest and digest,” a response that occurs when the body is at rest. Deep breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, and alternate nose breathing, can also help reduce stress. As an added bonus, it’s also one of the quickest ways to calm an activated nervous system.
2.Embrace the Chill of Cold Therapy
So, what's up with cold therapy? Well, it all starts with the body's response to cold exposure. Cold exposure also helps reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol, helping the nervous system relax. Its benefits also include reducing inflammation, improving sleep, and enhancing your mood, among other things. One of the most popular forms of cold therapy is ice baths.
The rush of sensations the body feels, along with the calming effects it creates as you adjust to the exposure to the cold, is just one of the reasons those who avidly partake in ice baths turn it into a mindfulness practice. That and the way cold therapy supports a calm nervous system. Cryotherapy is a more accessible, less immersive form of cold therapy that gives you all the benefits in a fraction of time and energy.
Whether you opt for an ice bath, cryotherapy, or simply a refreshing cold shower, cold therapy is a cool (pun intended) way to quiet an activated nervous system.
3.Forest Bathe in Nature or Go on a Hike
Immerse yourself in the sights, scents, and sounds of nature through the act of forest bathing. Forest bathing encourages you to be fully present in the moment. The idea is to slow down, be present, and truly experience the forest. Instead of worrying about the past or future, you're focused on the rustling leaves, the scent of pine needles, and the feel of the earth beneath your feet. This mindfulness helps reset your nervous system and reduces anxiety.
Disconnect from technology and reconnect to the world around you. As you walk, engage your senses. Notice the colors, textures, and scents around you. Listen to the sounds of birds, leaves rustling, and water flowing. Inhale the pure forest air. Remember that nature is magic. Bathe in the calming magic of the forest’s tranquility.
Grounding, also known as earthing, is a simple yet powerful practice that involves connecting with the Earth's energy. Grounding involves physically touching the Earth's surface - think walking barefoot on grass, soil, or sand. When you do this, your body absorbs electrons from the Earth, which can help neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation. This electron exchange has been shown to have a positive impact on various aspects of our health, including our nervous system.
Grounding has been found to reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol. Start your day with your bare feet on the ground in your backyard, the woods, a park, or a garden. Remember, grounding doesn't require any special equipment or a specific location. It's all about being present and feeling the Earth beneath you.
5.Eat Your Omega-3s
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are fantastic sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is often linked to anxiety and stress. Omega-3 fatty acids also have a central role in nervous system development as well as its repair.
So, swap your peanut butter out with some walnut butter, sprinkle flaxseeds onto your salads, or add chia seeds to your yogurt or morning smoothie – your taste buds and your nervous system will thank you.
6.Tap Into Emotional Freedom with EFT Tapping
EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Techniques, and it's often referred to as "tapping." This technique combines ancient Chinese acupressure with modern psychology to help you release emotional stress, calm your nervous system, and promote overall well-being. It's like a magical blend of science and self-care.
So, how does it work? Well, it's surprisingly simple. You use your fingertips to tap on specific points on your body while focusing on a particular issue or emotion that's bothering you. These points are along meridian lines, which are pathways of energy that have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.
When you tap on these energy points, you're sending calming signals to your brain. It's like giving your amygdala (the brain's fear center) a gentle reminder that you're safe and sound. This reduces the production of stress hormones like cortisol and activates your body's relaxation response.
7.Book That Massage
Massages stimulate the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine while reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormonal shift leads to lowered anxiety and an overall sense of well-being. Massages stimulate your PNS. Your “rest and digest” response takes over, and your mind and body are transported to a place of balanced calm.
Beyond the immediate relaxation, regular massages can have profound long-term effects on your nervous system. They can improve your sleep quality, boost your immune system, and even help manage chronic pain conditions. Try to have one at least once a month to see the best results.
8.Exercise, But Make It Gentle
Incorporating gentle exercise into your daily routine can be a game-changer to soothe your nervous system, helping you achieve that sense of calm and balance you're aiming for. Gentle exercise acts as a natural stress reliever. It reduces the production of stress hormones like cortisol, making you feel more relaxed.
Gentle exercise looks like low-intensity exercises. Think yoga, stretching, Tai Chi, and Qigong that don't require a huge time commitment. A quick morning yoga session or an evening stroll can do wonders for your nervous system.
9.Sing & Chant
Singing and chanting are wonderful practices that can have a soothing and calming effect on your nervous system. It's a therapeutic tool for anyone seeking relaxation. When you sing, you engage various muscles, including those in your diaphragm and abdomen. This deep breathing is similar to the controlled breaths of yoga or other forms of breathwork, instantly signaling your nervous system to calm down.
Chanting is like a rhythmic meditation that combines sound, breath, and intention. It has been practiced for centuries in various cultures and spiritual traditions, including Buddhism and Hinduism.
10. Connect With Your Community
Our brains are wired for connection, no matter where you are in the world. When we interact with others in meaningful ways, our ability to recover from depression, anxiety, and stress improves, and so does our quality of life. The journey toward a calm nervous system is intertwined with the power of social connections.
Opting for in-person meetups over lengthy texts or calls for at least one person in your friend group once or twice a month could be an effective way to prioritize social connection. So, don't hesitate to nurture those relationships, cultivate connections with new people, and share some laughter with your loved ones. It's all part of the recipe for inner peace and well-being.
One of the most famous chants is the "Om" mantra. When you chant "Om," you're not just making a sound; you're tapping into a universal vibration. This resonance can help synchronize your brain's hemispheres, leading to a sense of inner harmony and relaxation. It's like a reset button for your mind and body.
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Featured image by Delmaine Donson/Getty Images
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