There’s no hiding from the fact that we’ve all got a lot going on. From work stress, to family commitments, to social events, to trouble in the news – our nervous system can bear the brunt of it all.
We’re also under increasing societal pressure to eat well, exercise regularly, be productive, achieve our dreams, stay social and bring up our kids a certain way.
There comes a point where we need to say, enough.
What is our nervous system?
Our nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord and a network of nerves. This system sends messages back and forth between the brain and the body. It controls our movements, thoughts and responses to the world around us. It also manages our digestion and breathing.
If our nervous system becomes stressed or overworked we can experience anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, breathlessness, poor digestion and high blood pressure. Our body shifts into a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ which can be exhausting.
Here are few ways to help calm and soothe your nervous system:
Adding weight to the body can provide the brain with proprioceptive input which produces a calming effect on the nervous system. Weighted blankets are a cosy and comforting option to help lower the heart rate and find a moment of calm. Enjoying a long hug with a loved one is another way to add some weight to the body.
There’s nothing more soothing than a hot bath, a warm hug, a steaming cup of tea or a night on the sofa next to a roaring fire. In times of stress it can be wise to turn to something warm. Hot baths have been proven to reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure and increase endorphins. If sinking into the bath isn’t an option, simple heating pads can provide a similar experience.
Low energy levels can lead to a lower mood. Picking up a healthy snack can give your nervous system and energy levels a boost.
Did you know that the brain and nervous system love fat? Our nerve cells are wrapped in a coating called myelin and evidence has shown that eating fat can help keep that protective coating healthy. So, eating healthy fats is like giving your nervous system a hug! Think avocado, nuts or fatty fish.
Tracking is a somatic technique that can help you to come back into the present moment and feel more grounded:
- Find somewhere comfortable to sit and take some deep breaths
- Begin to slowly look around the room and allow your gaze to land on various objects
- When it does name the object out loud
- Repeat until you feel calm and happy to stop
One of the best ways to give your nervous system a break is to do just that – take a break! Our nervous system craves space and silence so try and avoid using your break to do something stimulating like watch TV, read a book or scroll social media. Instead, see if you can lie or sit down, close your eyes and bathe in silence. Feeding our nerves the minimum amount of stimulation possible will maximize rest and healing.
When we’re on the go we often forget to drink enough water. But, when we are hydrated our body allows our brain to function optimally. Upping our water intake helps in increasing alertness and improves memory, focus and attention. Try carrying a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go.
Many animals in the wild engage in shaking to release trauma or stress from their bodies. Dr Levine, a developer of somatic experiencing, notes that difficult experiences can build up energy in the nervous system, there’s some evidence to suggest that shaking can release it.
Begin by simply shaking your hands and see where this leads you.
Start putting your nervous system first
See if you can find space in your day to carve out time for your nervous system, your body will thank you for it.
You don’t have to take on all of the suggestions above, you might find that one or two resonate better with you and your routine. The most important thing is to start somewhere.