Inside our bodies, there is an innate intelligence and natural recovery response that unwinds tension, restores balance, and reboots our resilience. It’s called the nervous system. And with the hustle and bustle of everyday life this important system can really take a hit, especially with the sheer level of stress we are all exposed to these days!
When the body perceives stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline, which sends a signal to cells and organs all over the body that we are in danger — even if we aren’t actually facing any real danger. This can result in quicker breathing, increased heart rate and blood flow to our muscles, dilated pupils, slower digestion, and a host of other responses that get us ready for that fight mode. While these reactions can be helpful (and, life-saving) in some situations, the body can’t tell the difference betweenrealdanger and everyday stress disguised as danger. As a result, our nervous system goes into overdrive, or transforms into the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) - often known as being in a state of “fight or flight”.
As with everything, the goal for our nervous system is to find balance and the nervous system is constantly balancing between the SNS “fight or flight” state and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) - AKA the “rest and digest” state.
The problem is that, in our modern world, keeping a balance between SNS and PSNS can be a challenge as the pendulum tends to swing toward SNS with the heightened stress so many of us experience regularly. The key to swinging away from this fight or flight mode is to develop healthy habits that calm and rebalance the nervous system, bringing things back into calibration and harmony.
Here are my top 10 ways to calm and rebalance the nervous system.
1. Go on a Nature Walk
Taking a walk in nature is about more than a change of scenery. In Japan, the power of nature walks or “forest bathing” (also called the Shinrin-Yoku practice) has been studied extensively and research shows that by simply being in nature, you can reduce blood pressure, improve your mood, reduce levels of stress, increase your energy, and improve sleep. Reap these benefits by taking a 10-20 minute daily walk in a local park, along the water, or on a tree-lined street and, if you live in the city, try getting out of the hustle and bustle of it all and into the forest or a national park once per week for a good dose of nature therapy.
2. Soak in a Hot Bath
Soaking in a hot bath can also have incredible effects on the nervous system as it may help reduce inflammation and can regulate blood sugar. The best part about baths is that you can customize them to your needs and preferences. To make it a full sensory experience, include some gorgeous scented bath salts or bubble bath. To up the ante, include some healing herbs — such as lavender or rosemary — for added benefits.
3. Sweat it Out in a Infrared Sauna
Infrared saunas are another great way to reset. In fact, evidence suggests that sweating it out in an infrared sauna can increase endorphins and calm the nervous system. Regular use of an infrared sauna can also improve sleep (which also helps with nervous system health — more on that later), relax the body, promote detoxification, and can also boost skin health, providing more clarity and an inner glow. If you don’t have access to an infrared sauna, using an infrared sauna blanket, such as the HigherDOSE Infrared Sauna Blanket, is an excellent alternative.
4. Rebound on a Mini Trampoline
When we jump on a mini trampoline, we create a rhythmic bounce that helps us experience repeated moments of weightlessness and lightness. This lightness helps our nervous system relax and brings us back to center again. Additionally, rebounding is a lot of fun and can help us shake off stress, which is what wreaks havoc on our nervous system. It also has the added benefit of stimulating the lymphatic system, which helps us process toxins.
5. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
This might be easier said than done but, getting a good night’s sleep can work wonders for the nervous system. It’s one of the most important factors for hormonal balance which, when imbalanced, can result in health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, and irregular appetite. Not to mention: Sleep is our body’s way of truly resetting. I recommend creating a nighttime routine or ritual for yourself and stick to it. This could involve putting your phone down an hour before bedtime, stretching, spending a little extra time on your skincare regimen, and reading. As part of your routine, try to also avoid food consumption at least three hours before bed time so that your body can digest and prepare for sleep.
6. Shake It Off
According to Dr. Peter Levine in his book Waking the Tiger,animals engage in shaking to release trauma from their bodies. Perhaps you have noticed that when walking the dog and seeing them shake it off after an encounter with a less-than-friendly canine. Challenging experiences like trauma can build up in the nervous system and evidence suggests shaking can help release it. This “shake it off” technique is also called therapeutic or neurogenic tremoring and is a technique used in tension and trauma therapeutic release exercises (TRE), which was created by Dr. David Berceli.
7. Nourish Your Connective Tissue
The health of your connective tissue is also connected to the health of your nervous system. Nourishing and nurturing your fascia through body rolling, breathwork, and stretching can help rejuvenate and rebalance the nervous system. I recommend regular belly massage or gentle belly rolling with my Body Sphere to help stimulate the vagus nerve and shift into Parasympathetic Nervous System. The Aligned Life Studio has some amazing Body Sphere exercises to try for calming and rebalancing the nervous system.
8. Turn on an Aromatherapy Diffuser
Our sense of smell is powerful enough to reset our nervous system — and aromatherapy has an amazing impact on the body. Research shows that aromatherapy can be used for Automatic Nervous System regulation with stress-relieving effects in adolescents. You can experience aromatherapy in a host of ways, including essential oil rollers, all-natural aromatherapy candles, or deliciously scented bath salts. Additionally, incorporating an aromatherapy diffuser in your home decor can promote a calmer nervous system for the whole family. Try a mixture of tranquil lavender and sandalwood, or relaxing eucalyptus essential oil and see for yourself!
9. Sip on Calming Tea
Tea packs a health punch and some calming herbal teas also target the nervous system. Herbs are powerful allies to help reduce stress and anxiety from within. In fact, they can directly turn down the Sympathetic Nervous System state by supporting the body’s own production of GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps reduce the activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System. My favorite calming herbs to steep are chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, lavender, and valerian.
10. Listen to Mantra Music
Mantras are powerful messages that can have a lasting impact on the mind, body, and soul. And, listening to mantra music can crank things up and allow for further calming of the nervous system. A “mantra” means “tool or instrument of the mind” in Sanskrit and can help reduce racing thoughts. Listening to calming music has a positive impact on your heartbeat, breathing, and your Parasympathetic Nervous System. When we add in mantras, the mind goes into a state of central focus, which allows you to release the racing thoughts.
For added benefits, you can try chanting the mantras on your own or along with the song, too. According to Kundalini Yoga Foundation 3Ho, listening to your own voice can make a big difference and help you reach a state of relaxation very quickly.
These activities are all excellent ways to calm and rebalance the nervous system — but they aren’t the only ways. Other practices such as meditation, massage, breathwork, and the food we eat can also have a huge difference. Meditation is an excellent way to decrease stress, particularly our reaction to the stress we can’t control. Check out some of the meditations and visualizations inside the Aligned iIfe Studio. And, similar to meditation, massage is also an excellent way to release stress. It also promotes recovery and can make us stronger, calmer, and more able to fight infection. Because of its impact on the nervous system, breathwork is having a big moment right now. When we slow our breathing and take deep, intentional inhales and exhales, we tell our nervous system that things are okay. In addition, regular breathwork can strengthen the lungs, improve the immune system, and decrease heart rate. You know that phrase “you are what you eat?” That is also true when it comes to the health of our nervous system. Eating an anti-stress diet — which involves cutting out stress-enhancing caffeine and sugar — will trigger the rest and recovery process of our nervous system.
Stress can have damaging effects on our health and, the truth is, no amount of stress is going to change the outcome. When we stress or worry, we deplete our energy and create a cloud of fuzziness that weighs us down and makes it harder to have clarity to deal with whatever’s going on and to figure out more evolved solutions. It keeps us in survival mode, which blocks our creativity and general flow of well-being. While the stresses of life are inevitable, having tools to calm and rebalance the nervous system and improve our overall response to stress can make the world of a difference.
I also did a live webinar based on this blog, so if you enjoyed reading check it out inside theAligned Life Collective - our FREE community wellness hub.