Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Have you ever wondered, Hmmm, how can I calm my nervous system? You likely haven’t. But, you may have thought something like, I need to calm my thoughts. I need to calm my mind. Or, something just feels off today. How do you calm the nervous system?
If you’re familiar with calming techniques, then you may have a few solutions that you gravitate towards. Even better if you know what the nervous system is. However, if you aren’t familiar with the nervous system and how to calm it, then you may want to keep reading. The Nervous System
First, what is the nervous system? I won’t dive too deep into this, as it could take a short book, or at least a couple chapters to truly understand. Though I do want you to have a brief understanding of the breakdown.
In short the nervous system is responsible for the control of information. Think of it as the control panel for your body. It shoots messages to and from your brain to all parts of the body. The nervous system is divided structurally into the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists of all the wiring, or nerves. These systems are responsible for responding to the communication they receive. The communication can be learning that your partner is in labor, your job responsibilities have changed, or another variation of excitement or trauma. The message is transmitted and your nervous system coordinates a response. The functions of the nervous system are divided into the somatic and autonomic systems. The somatic handles the movements we make and senses we feel (sight and hearing). The autonomic deals with the “automatic” functions of the body such as breathing, digestion and heart rate. We’re almost to the good stuff, hang in there! Yet again, there are complementary parts that make up the autonomic system. These parts are referred to as the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The stressors we endure activate the sympathetic nervous system. You’ve probably heard of this system without even realizing it. This is our fight or flight response. This is the system of the body that you are aiming to calm. When we are not in a relaxed, or calm state, our bodies show physical symptoms. If we ignore these symptoms; tight shoulders/jaw, recurring headaches and digestive discomfort, then we put ourselves at risk for more serious ailments to arise. To avoid such pressure we want to shift our approach. Rather than living in a chronically stressed environment it’s important to implement practices that will activate the parasympathetic system. The system that restores the calm in your body. This system is crucial for bringing the body back to a restful state. With all that is taking place around us, it can be hard to settle, or calm the nervous system. Life is full of stressors that induce a reaction within the body. Our day to day routine, going to work, hustling to fulfill expectations for our families and society, all of which input a message that results in reaction.
So how do we calm our nervous systems in the midst of chaos? Here are some suggestions for calming your nervous system: Affirmations Affirmations are statements aimed to motivate, inspire and encourage a belief system. These statements will contradict any negative stories and thoughts you have told yourself over and over again. For affirmations to impact and potentially calm the nervous system, you must think the thought often. The more often you think the affirmation and use a particular nerve pathway, the less stimulus it will take to trigger the pathway off again. The result? You are more likely to think of the affirmation again (Holistic Anatomy, 2010). Helpful tips on affirmations:
Implement them as habitual thoughts, say them first thing when you wake up in the morning.
Make sure they serve your purpose.
Say them in the present tense, as if you already possess whatever it is that you are stating.
Be sure to state them in a positive manner. Instead of saying what you don’t want, focus on what you do want.
Herbs and Essential Oils There are a couple types of herbs to consider when calming the nervous system; nervine and adaptogenic. Nervine herbs help calm the nerves through their sedative and antidepressant properties. Some examples of nervine herbs include lavender, rose, and chamomile. Depending on the preparation the herbs can be ingested in teas, tinctures, or externally via herbal oils or aromatic sprays. Adaptogenic herbs tend to support the nervous system by easing the body’s reaction to stress, emotional or environmental. They target the body’s immune system, cellular health and even stimulate antioxidant production. The way people use these herbs are in food, teas, tinctures and supplements. Popular adaptogens include turmeric and ashwagandha.
Essential oils (EOs) are generally used aromatically or topically. You may have noticed essential oils diffused at your local yoga studio. This contributes to a relaxing environment. EOs may deliver different feelings when used aromatically during different moon cycles. Essential oils play different roles in things like detoxification and relaxation. Some EOs that contribute to the calming of the nervous system include:
Copaiba - promotes the calming of stressful feelings
Lavender - calms anxious feelings
Lemon - said to increase energy
Frankincense - to ward away worries
Herbs and essential oils are said to promote a clearer state of mind. To learn more about herbs and essential oils and safe ways to use them, it is recommended that you work with either an herbalist or aromatherapist.
Meditation There are various types of yoga and meditation practices to calm the mind and nervous system.
For example, mindfulness meditation is a practice that allows for reflection. This reflection may be necessary after a triggering experience. The meditator’s observations allow the person to become aware of an experience or emotion without reacting. If mindfulness doesn’t resonate with you, then object-based meditation may be a more effective option. Object-based meditation brings the meditator’s attention to a specific object when their mind starts to wander. The object that the meditator focuses on can be their breath, which will be mentioned among breathwork below, a mantra, visualization or an external object. Some studies have shown that meditation can lower blood pressure compared to those who do not engage in meditation. Yoga Try a yoga flow that fits your lifestyle. It will relax and slow down your body’s responses. There are various practices to choose from increasing the potential to strengthen and activate the parasympathetic (rest and reset) system. Yoga has the ability to calm anxious minds. The focus in yoga gives the yogi a chance to tune into their breathing and movement. Yoga teachings allow the body to relax consciously. The combination of movement and breathing calm the body and spirit. This beautiful flow of stretches and strength movements resets the body for a period of time during and following the practice. If you have any questions on yoga techniques or studios to visit, please message us. We’d love to help you find your perfect fit! Breathwork Practicing slow breathing a few minutes a day may have lasting beneficial effects on a number “of medical and emotional disorders,” including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression. (Nutrition facts) Focusing on breathwork is often undervalued. This technique is one of the easiest (if not THE easiest) way to activate and reset the parasympathetic system. You’ll want to focus on deep abdominal breathing. Pay attention to the breath coming from the diaphragm. Breathe slowly and deeply. This method of calming the nervous system can be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Find a time of the day when you can focus on your breath. You can do this first thing in the morning or before you fall asleep. Take a full breath in and out about every 11 seconds. Nutrition
Now let’s digress to the beginning when I gave you the breakdown of the nervous system. The autonomic system includes your “automatic” bodily functions. These are things like your heart rate, blood sugar and even body temperature. Stress affects these functions by decreasing their efficiency. Aside from avoiding stress, how do we create a calming environment for your nervous system? Through the foods we eat! Here are some examples of foods to include in your diet: Studies have shown that eating one cup of legumes, or beans, can lower an individual’s resting heart rate. Greens, such as kale, are also contributors for calming your nervous system. Kale is high in lutein, which is good for slowing cognitive decline. Mushrooms are an excellent source of B vitamins, which are essential to a healthy metabolism and nervous system. Additional Ways to Calm the Nervous System
Light Frequency Healing
Spend time outside (nature)
Receive a massage
Repetitive prayer (or affirmation)
Focus on a word or place that is soothing (i.e. peace, flow, the beach)
Play with animals or children
Partake in an enjoyable hobby
Awareness There are many ways to tune in and calm down your nervous system during stressful times. Let this serve as a reminder to bring awareness to your own nervous system. In holistic health it’s important to find a balance of mind, body and spirit. The nervous system encompasses all of these. Find strength in your own healing power. Please share with us what has helped you in calming your nervous system. (Photos courtesy of Pixabay)
About the Author Lacy Catao is a certified Holistic Nutritionist. Lacy enjoys sharing her knowledge of nutrition and wellness, while also providing lifestyle insight as a mother striving to parent with grace and patience. This California native planted her roots in northern Nevada with her husband in 2016. Lacy is the mother of three girls and two stubborn Bulldogs. Lacy can be found on Instagram @LivinwithLacy or https://livingwithlacy.com/.