The nervous system is a complex network of specialized cells that control and coordinate essential bodily functions, enabling us to perceive, think, and act. It consists of two main components: the central nervous system (CNS), which incorporates the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS), which comprises the nerves connecting the CNS to the rest of the body. The regulation of our nervous system plays a crucial role in maintaining overall well-being, affecting everything from our physical health to our emotional and mental states. This article will explore strategies and techniques to regulate the nervous system, promoting balance and optimizing our overall functioning.
Understanding the Nervous System
It’s important to grasp its fundamental workings to regulate the nervous system effectively. The autonomic nervous system, a division of the PNS, controls involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion. The ANS can further be divided into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), responsible for the body’s stress response (“fight or flight”), and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which promotes relaxation and restoration (“rest and digest”). The balance between these two branches is crucial for optimal nervous system regulation.
The Impact of Chronic Stress
Chronic stress can significantly disrupt the balance of our nervous system, leading to various physical and mental health issues. Prolonged activation of the SNS can result in increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, weakened immune function, and heightened anxiety. Conversely, an underactive PNS can manifest as poor digestion, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and a reduced ability to cope with stress. Recognizing the signs of chronic stress is vital to intervene and regulate our nervous system effectively.
Techniques for Nervous System Regulation
- Deep Breathing: Deep, diaphragmatic breathing activates the PNS, promoting relaxation and reducing the SNS’s dominance. Practice breathing exercises, such as mindful breathing and alternate nostril breathing, to regulate your nervous system’s response to stress.
- Deep Breathing Exercise: Deep breathing exercises are a simple yet powerful technique for regulating the nervous system. By consciously focusing on our breath, we can activate the body’s relaxation response, which counteracts the stress response. Deep breathing elevates the supply of oxygen to the brain. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of calmness and reducing anxiety.
One effective technique is diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing. To practice this technique:
- Find a comfortable seated position and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, and allow your belly to rise as you fill your lungs with air.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, letting your belly fall as you release the breath.
- Redo this process for several minutes, focusing on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body.
- Meditation is a practice that implies training the mind to achieve a state of mental clarity and emotional calmness. It has been shown to have several benefits for nervous system regulation. Regular meditation can reduce stress, improve attention and focus, and promote well-being.
- One famous form of meditation is mindfulness meditation. First, find a quiet, comfortable space to sit or lie down. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, noticing the sensation of each inhalation and exhalation. Whenever your mind starts to wander, gently guide your focus back to your breath. Engage in this practice for a designated period, slowly increasing the time as you become more comfortable.
- Yoga is an ancient practice that incorporates physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. It is highly effective in regulating the nervous system and reducing stress. The combination of movement, breath control, and mindfulness in yoga helps to activate the relaxation response, promoting a sense of calm and well-being.
- Certain yoga poses are particularly beneficial for nervous system regulation. Child’s Pose, for example, involves kneeling on the floor with your knees apart and your torso resting on your thighs, reaching your arms forward. This Pose gently stretches the spine and promotes relaxation. Another pose, Legs-Up-The-Wall, requires lying on your back with your legs extended vertically against a wall. This position encourages blood flow to the brain and helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.
- Biofeedback is a technique that involves using electronic devices to observe and provide information about physiological processes in the body. It allows individuals to gain awareness and control over their bodily functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Biofeedback can help balance the autonomic nervous system and promote relaxation by learning to regulate these functions.
- During a biofeedback session, sensors are attached to the body to measure specific physiological responses. The individual receives real-time feedback through visual or auditory cues, enabling them to make adjustments and consciously influence their body’s reactions. With practice, individuals can develop the ability to self-regulate their nervous system, leading to reduced stress and improved well-being.
- Aromatherapy is a holistic practice that utilizes the therapeutic properties of essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. Certain scents have been found to directly impact the nervous system, helping to induce relaxation and reduce stress levels.
- Lavender essential oil, for instance, is widely recognized for its calming properties. Its aroma can help reduce anxiety and promote better sleep. Peppermint oil, on the other hand, has invigorating and uplifting effects, which can enhance mental clarity and focus. Aromatherapy can be incorporated into daily routines through diffusers, inhalers, or diluted oils applied to the skin.
Regulating the nervous system is essential for maintaining overall well-being and promoting optimal functioning. By understanding the nervous system’s key components and chronic stress’s impact, we can implement various techniques to restore balance. From deep breathing and mindfulness to physical activity and self-care, there are numerous strategies to choose from. Experiment with different approaches and discover what works best for you. Remember, it’s a journey of self-discovery and self-care. By nurturing and regulating your nervous system, you can enhance your physical health, emotional resilience, and overall quality of life.
Why Regulate Our Nervous System?
NourishDoc: Hello, everyone, and happy Friday. Well, how do we regulate our nervous system? We need this more than ever because of COVID-19 and worldwide events. Well, that’s what we wanted to bring you, not a very interesting topic from a Friday point of view because we want to relax. However, we can learn how to regulate, which we discuss with Nikki. Nikki is a registered nurse as well as a holistic wellness coach. She is joining me live right now. Thank you so much.
Wellness Coach Nikki: Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure coming on this platform, speaking with you, and educating you on health. So, I help my clients optimize their mental, emotional, and physical health in my practice. I found, professionally and personally, that being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in 2018 is that the root of all chronic disease and stress is nervous system dysregulation.
So, we have an autonomic nervous system responsible for regulating all of our physiological processes, heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and digestion. When we have high stress levels, we get stuck in the sympathetic response, the fight or flight response. Now, when we are in fight or flight chronically, we are not able to rest, we’re not able to recover, we’re not able to find a sense of peace or safety or calm within our bodies, and we’re not able to digest our food even everything goes to survival mode and all of our other physical processes kind of get put on the back burner.
So this is where chronic inflammation happens and where chronic disease happens. So first and foremost, when I have clients come to me to optimize their health and start to reverse some of these chronic diseases and symptoms and get to the root of them, my first thing is to help you learn how to build a toolbox of really simple and accessible exercises that you can pull for throughout your day. When thinking about regulating the nervous system, it’s important to note that consistency is important.
So, I always recommend that my clients pick a practice they feel their nervous system embodies shift with and start building that consistently into their day. So, waking up in the morning and reaching for your favorite practice that you feel a shift with when you practice it and then, maybe doing that at night as well and then, also throughout the day, when you’re feeling dysregulated or stressed.
So, I want to share some of the most effective and accessible in-the-moment practices that have greatly helped my clients and me. So, the first thing I like to do is, first, I want just briefly to touch the vagus nerve. So, the vagus nerve is a nerve that runs from the brain through the throat, down into the digestive tract, and branches out into every single organ. This is a very important nerve to consider when learning how to regulate the nervous system because when we stimulate that vagus nerve, it primes the body to enter rest and digest or a parasympathetic state which is the opposite of fight or flight.
So, things that regulate the nervous system and stimulate the vagus nerve are things like flexion and extension of the spine. So, because it runs through the neck and the spine, I don’t know if anybody is familiar with yoga. However, if you have a yoga practice, I’m sure you’ve practiced something called cat cow. It is where you’re on all fours, you stretch your chest toward the front of the room, and then you round your spine up toward the ceiling.
Cat Cow Yoga Asana
Suppose you do a simple Google search of cat-cow. In that case, that’s something that you can wake up in the morning and do every single day before you start your day to create an opportunity for that downregulation. So, cat-cow, I am being trained in functional yoga. There are sequences that I guide my clients and students through to help bring an opportunity for down-regulation through this flexion and extension of the spine practices. Humming and singing are easy to practice anytime in the car while driving between activities.
The reason is that humming and singing stimulate the vagus nerve in the throat. Shaking, so if you get up and stand up throughout the day, maybe every hour, I would incorporate these things while you were looking to handle your stress levels regularly. So you can set the alarm on your phone. Every hour get up and do one of these exercises. Standing and shaking out the limbs, the body, and the legs are a way to down-regulate, and something so powerful for me is EFT tapping.
So, EFT tapping stands for emotional freedom technique. This has been studied, and researched, and it’s proven to decrease our cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone. So, when we are chronically stressed and don’t have the tools to regulate, our cortisol levels are through the roof, which creates a lot of inflammation, blood sugar, regulation issues, and gut issues and then leads to chronic disease. So, EFT tapping has been proven to decrease cortisol levels and down-regulate the nervous system.
You can also do a quick Google search and EFT tapping. I also have a video on my YouTube that goes through a down-regulation ritual sequence I practice regularly. It combines some vagus nerve stimulation practices and EFT tapping. So, deep belly breathing. This is something that most people don’t practice on an unconscious level because we have such a high level of anxiety and are stuck in this fight-or-flight state throughout our society that we develop these very shallow breathing patterns, and so, throughout your day, when you’re noticing anxiety or stress coming up for you, pause and take a deep breath and see if you were shoulders rise, if you’re breathing in the top of the chest or if you’re using what’s called the diaphragm down here, this is your breathing muscle.
So when we take a deep breath, Your abdomen is supposed to expand all four sides. That is not our typical breathing pattern today because of the stress level within our lifestyles. So, pausing and shifting out of that shallow breathing pattern and taking a deep belly breath stimulates the vagus nerve because the vagus nerve goes down into the diaphragm and all the digestive organs. So, that’s a really powerful practice you can do anytime.
No one has to know that you’re doing it; if you’re feeling dysregulated or stressed like your heart is racing, your is racing. Just see if you can pause and introduce some deep belly breathing. I also have a video on my YouTube on the difference between shallow and deep belly breathing and how to begin introducing that breathing pattern into the abdomen and the diaphragm. Another one that I want to mention is grounding.
Now, depending on where you’re at, depending on the weather, it may not be easy to go outside and put your bare feet on the earth. However, there are also grounding products that we can use during winter times or colder climates. There are different companies now that offer grounding sheets which means that the sheets are plugged into a grounded outlet or a grounding rod that you would put through your window and plant into the soil outside of your home.
It stimulates your bare skin touching the earth, which is very, very regulating to the nervous system. There are a ton of studies on it. Suppose you go on YouTube and you look up birthing the movie. In that case, there’s an hour-long documentary by Clint Ober, who found the research behind how powerful it is to ground with the earth. So, we’ve been so far removed from that because of our lifestyle that it’s contributing to our chronic inflammation and stress levels.
So, those are some of the exercises that I like to give clients as options to begin gaining a sense of calm throughout their day; there are always mental, emotional, and physical reasons why we have stress. I feel that it’s really important to work with a practitioner who can help you in a holistic, well-rounded way, holistic, meaning mental, emotional, and physical, not just holistic, meaning natural. So, I feel like a really good overview of how to begin taking your power back in the sense of being stuck in a state of fight or flight or chronic stress.
Exercises for Nervous System Regulation
NourishDoc: These are great tips; it’s very easy to do all these steps you talked about; most of us know yoga as a whole, and that yoga is beneficial, but what is important is what do I do in yoga that’s going to help me, right? And to your point, simple steps like cat and cow and then deep breathing, then you talk about shaking and combining it with humming and EFT.
Most of us need to understand what EFT can help us with, but tapping and even the acupressure points, right? I just wanted to show them. It’s the same concept that you’re pressing on the meridians, right? All these things can help us regulate our nervous system, which is so much needed. Anything else, Nikki? I know you have a course and all kinds of things coming up. Do you want to add anything before we wrap up today?
Wellness Coach Nikki: Yeah. So, I do have a course coming to your platform; it’s called Physical Foundation. So, it will be teaching you guys how to optimize the pillars of physical health, which in my experience, personally and professionally. That is sleep, hydration, digestion, and our drainage capacity or our body’s ability to detox effectively.
Now, those pillars have much to do with our nervous system. If those areas are optimized, that also creates an opportunity for our nervous system to down-regulate. I have, in the course, some of these tips on Nervous System Regulation embedded throughout. However, the Nervous System regulation is the fifth. If not the first pillar. Those are the five, and I’m excited for you guys to experience that course. It’s foundational when you’re looking to optimize your health.
Tips For Improving Holistic Health
NourishDoc: We need the foundation without the basic solid foundation. We cannot build on that as we know that. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being with us and sharing these simple little tips that anyone can do. For all of you, please keep supporting us. We are finally launching our platform at the month, end of this month, which will be available to everyone with really simple tips that everyone can do to start improving their holistic health. That’s what we are talking about. With that, namaste, and have a great weekend, everyone.