15 Ways to Calm Your Nervous System
(originally posted by Angela Warburton in the Hearty Soul)
Having some stress in life is normal, and our bodies are programmed to deal effectively with short bouts of stress, but it’s when stress is ongoing over a long period of time that our nervous system starts to burn out. By including some of the following techniques throughout the day, you’ll be able to help drop your body into that more relaxed and calm state, which is so essential to healing and well-being!
Laughter not only helps get your body out of that stressed state, it also helps to release some of the build up tension that accompanies stress such as negative aggressive energy, tight muscles and trapped tension in the body. Not to mention, laughter actually helps decrease pain in the body. Seriously. It releases endogenous opiods (feel good hormones), which decreases our sensation of pain. There are even laughter wellness or laughter yoga sessions out there for those interested!
Meditate –calm and still that mind One. Breath. At. A. Time.
20 minutes a day can have profound effects on stress, anxiety, insomnia, just to name a few things…in addition to calming our nervous system. Incorporating mindful meditative moments (think 5 focused breaths regularly throughout the day) can also have a profound effect on your health over time.
Moderate exercise - Brisk walking in nature or on trails is one ideal way to move without adding more stress to your body. If you're doing any type of intense exercise, make sure it's under 40 mins as over 40 your body will think it’s in a stress state and act accordingly.
Go to your happy place…even just in your head.
Positive calming visualization helps to calm your nervous system immediately. Instead of engaging in a ‘disaster fantasy’ as I like to call them (imaginary fights, catastrophes, how the world will do you wrong thinking), picture yourself in a favourite calming environment (nature is a good start) and breathe, naturally calming as you pick apart all the different elements of your spot. What does it look like, what sounds or smells are there, what does the air or sun feel like on your skin…get specific and really try to FEEL it.
Giving -time, energy, love, acts of kindness – feels good, opens our hearts and, yes, calms the nervous system. Truly.
Getting out of our head and all the worries that come from thinking too much and into something that is more from the right side of the brain can be deeply calming for the nervous system. The work of Jill Bolte Taylor talks about left and right brain differences and the stress we feel and experience in our body. Getting creative is a great way to get out of the left-brain and into the more peaceful right brain.
The Art of Non-Doing.
Active relaxing (non-doing) includes things such as listening to music, meditation, colouring, cooking, allowing yourself to simply BE, and even (my personal favourite) the wall stare (allowing yourself to just sit. Still. That’s it. And perhaps stare at the wall or ceiling and let the day’s events just float away). Non-doing is considered a yin (parasympathetic) based activity in Chinese Medicine, and is an essential element to being balanced. These activities are greatly lacking in our modern world, but if we can include some of them daily, we can help our system recharge and de-stress from the day-to-day busyness.
Eat Whole foods
Having a nutrient rich diet is essential to good health and reducing stress in the body. Processed foods have an inflammatory response in the body and tax our body causing additional unnecessary stress. We really are what we eat!
Find like-minded or kindred people or a community. Spending time with other and in a place where we are fully able to be ourselves has been shown to have a significant impact on healing, stress reduction and health in general. We don’t need a study to tell us this – being with people we feel good around feels good!
Run your fingers over your lips.
Yes, you read that right! There are a large number of parasympathetic fibers spread throughout your lips, and by lightly running your fingers over them, you are stimulating the PNS. This helps explain why so many people are drawn to eating in stressful times. You can also suck on a (naturally sweetened) hard candy or nut as that action also helps to calm the nervous system as well.
Address and face underlying cause of stress.
Yes there are things that are beyond our control, but many of the activities and they way we engage in those activities in our daily life ARE within our control. Can you leave 5 minutes earlier to avoid rushing? Can you chose to only engage in social media or your email at specific times throughout the day and avoid the constant checking and avoid over stimulating or stressing yourself. Can you take one thing out of your day to free up extra time? Turn off the music or bright lights? Sometimes a job needs to be changed, a discussion had, a fear faced or a relationship issue address. These may be hard, but the ongoing stress of something that isn’t working can be taxing and leaving you in a constant state of stress.
Deep, Long, slow exhale.
Try to double your exhale length to a 1:2 ration (breath in for 3, out for 6 or as close to that as you can). That’s the natural way we breathe when we’re calm and this ‘tricks’ the nervous system into thinking it’s relaxed.
Deep, full belly breaths: When you inhale, fill your lungs fully and expanding your low belly. Hold for a second or so, and then exhale in a relaxed way. Try breathing in this way for 60 seconds.
Just one thing at a time.
When eating, eat. When reading, read. Avoid multi-tasking when you can as too much sensory input can increase stress levels for many people. Stimulating activities or environments (loud music, busy crowded spaces, competing visual stimuli etc.) or stimulants in general (caffeine, sugar, refined foods, energy drinks, pharmaceutical or recreational drugs etc.) can also send your nervous system into over drive.
Appreciate what you DO have. Enjoy your life
There’s always something we wish was better or different, but when we can actually stop and smell the roses so to speak – appreciate living in a country where we are free to speak and work and get an education. If we have feet to walk, take a moment to give thanks for that. If we have food in the fridge and a roof over our head, take a moment to give thanks for that. When we focus on what’s ‘wrong’ we stress our body and nervous system. When we settle into the feeling of what’s right, our system calms accordingly. And in the words of the wonderful and wise Thich Nhat Hanh “take a moment and appreciate how wonderful it is NOT to have a toothache!” – Yay!
Most of these activities are very simple and can be done even when you just have a momend to spare. It is these tiny things, done on a regular basis, that add up to help make a calm, happy and healthy life. Try some right now and see what happens!