Quick and Easy Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System During Chaotic Times
It's safe to say that most of us are still navigating complex and challenging effects of a global pandemic. This has resulted in a significant impact on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Even though things have gone back to "normal", our bodies remember the stress and hang on to it much longer than our conscious minds.
One of the primary systems affected in our body during a chaotic, traumatic or stressful time is the nervous system, which plays a crucial role in regulating our overall health. Dysregulation of the nervous system can manifest in a variety of ways, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood swings. Fortunately, there are natural ways to quickly regulate the nervous system and bring balance back into our lives.
Causes of Nervous System Dysregulation
Before delving into ways to regulate the nervous system, let's understand the factors that can cause it to become dysregulated. Some common factors are:
Chronic stress: Long-term exposure to high levels of stress can cause the nervous system to stay in a state of constant arousal, leading to anxiety and other mental health issues.
Traumatic experiences: Traumatic events, such as accidents, grieving the loss of a loved one, a global pandemic, or abuse, can overwhelm the nervous system and result in difficulties with emotional and physiological regulation. This can become especially harmful when two or more of these events happen back to back (for example, someone goes through a really hard divorce and then loses their job a few weeks later).
Lack of sleep: Sleep plays a critical role in the healthy functioning of our nervous system. Insufficient sleep can lead to dysregulation and various health problems.
Poor nutrition: A diet lacking essential nutrients can negatively impact our nervous system and overall health.
Substance abuse: Excessive use of substances like alcohol, nicotine, and drugs can interfere with the natural balance of our nervous system.
What Actually Happens to Our Nervous Systems When They Are Dysregulated
The human body has a complex system designed to respond to various stressors or threats in the environment known as the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is primarily responsible for managing involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and body temperature. It can be further divided into two distinct components: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). These systems work in tandem to maintain homeostasis, but they have different roles and effects on the body.
The sympathetic nervous system: "fight or flight"
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is often termed the "fight or flight" response system. It is responsible for preparing the body to respond to a perceived threat or stressor. When the brain perceives danger, it activates the SNS, releasing neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and adrenaline, which set off a cascade of physiological changes. These changes include increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, dilation of the pupils, increased perspiration, and increased blood flow to muscles. The SNS also inhibits non-essential systems, such as digestion and reproduction, to focus the body's energy and resources on reacting to the immediate threat.
The parasympathetic nervous system: "rest & digest"
In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is known as the "rest and digest" system. Its primary function is to conserve and restore energy within the body, promoting relaxation and recovery following a period of stress or activity. The PNS has a calming effect, counterbalancing the stimulating effects of the SNS by releasing neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine. When activated, the PNS slows the heart rate, decreases blood pressure, constricts the pupils, and encourages digestion and elimination. These actions help the body maintain homeostasis and return to a state of equilibrium.
Notably, in certain high-stress situations, the body may also exhibit a "freeze" or "fawn" response, which can be understood as variations of the ANS responses. The "freeze" response occurs when neither fight nor flight seems feasible, resulting in physical immobilization or partial loss of motor skills. This response is often associated with the release of endogenous opioids, which can induce a state of numbness or dissociation. The "fawn" response, on the other hand, involves an individual attempting to appease a perceived threat by displaying submission, compliance, or people-pleasing behaviors.
Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System
Some common indications of a dysregulated nervous system include:
Emotional instability: Experiencing rapid mood swings, irritability, or emotional outbursts can signal dysregulation in your nervous system.
Anxiety and depression: Persistent feelings of anxiety or depression can be a sign of an imbalanced nervous system.
Insomnia or sleep disturbances: Difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep may indicate nervous system dysregulation.
Chronic pain or tension: Persistent pain or tension in your muscles could point to an imbalance in your nervous system.
Unexplained digestive disturbances, constant feelings of panic or dread, ADHD, poor attention & memory- these are just a few of the many signs!
Natural Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System Quickly
To bring balance and regulation to your nervous system, consider implementing the following natural strategies:
Deep breathing exercises: Deep and mindful breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response. Practice slow, deep breaths for a few minutes each day to help bring your nervous system back into balance.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR): Systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups can help calm your nervous system. Start with your feet and work your way up, tensing each muscle group for a few seconds before releasing the tension.
Meditation: Regular meditation can have long-lasting, positive effects on your nervous system. Start with a simple mindfulness practice, focusing on your breath and bodily sensations, and gradually increase the duration of your practice. Check out my free Self-Love Meditation as a place to start!
Sleep hygiene: Prioritize sleep by establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Create a relaxing bedtime routine and avoid stimulating activities and screens before bed. (Read 7 Steps to a Better Sleep for more tips on this!)
Nutritious diet: Consume a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Incorporate foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, walnuts, and chia seeds, which are known to support nervous system health.
Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity has numerous benefits, including releasing endorphins and aiding in stress management. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Yoga is a fantastic way to move your mind and balance the nervous system- check out my upcoming yoga events on my Instagram page.
Social connections: Building strong social connections can have a positive influence on your nervous system. Engage in meaningful conversations, seek support from loved ones, or join activities with others who share your interests. (Read: How Relationships & Community Impact Our Health).
Regulating your nervous system is not only essential in maintaining your overall health but also beneficial in enhancing emotional and mental well-being. By employing these natural techniques, you can quickly and effectively bring balance back into your life, promoting tranquility and resilience in the face of ongoing challenges.
If you need support with more personalized coaching around nervous system regulation and holistic health, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org