Is Your Nervous System out of Whack?
Why It’s Critical to Tend to Your Body’s Command Center
So much healing comes down to the state of our nervous system. You can do all the therapy, take all the supplements, and say the affirmations – but if your nervous system only knows destructive or unhealthy patterns, you may find the same situations happening as if on autopilot. Sounds frustrating, right? Thankfully, many tools are at our disposal to help balance our nervous system and strengthen its responses.
Firstly, what is the nervous system?
Think of your nervous system as your command center that handles messaging between your brain and the rest of your body. Amazingly, rendered in photographs, it looks a bit like a tree with its roots (the nerves) extending throughout the body. The nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord, and a complex network of nerves, and its communication helps control all the body’s functions.
A glance at nervous system health reveals something those in medicine and psychology know well: everything in our bodies is deeply interconnected and affected by the state of its components and parts. If your nervous system is dysregulated by chronic stress, your entire body and its systems will also be distressed. When your nervous system is healthy and functioning optimally, just about everything else in your body works better. For example, your immune system is stronger and better equipped to fight illness (another level here: getting sick often causes us stress), sleep improves (along with a host of mental and physical states contingent on our sleep, aka just about everything), our hormones stay better balanced, our digestive systems work more smoothly, and inflammation decreases. In general, the body heals and functions optimally.
Sympathetic and parasympathetic.
Our bodies evolved 10,000s of thousands of years ago to respond to dangers in our environment – fast. For better or for worse, the echoes of this evolution still tend to run the show, even though most of us aren’t trying to escape a tiger on the savanna and are more worried about, say, performing well at work. Our sympathetic nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This activates your heart rate, dilates your pupils, and generally gets you going in many ways with the aim of helping save your life in the face of a threat. Problems (i.e., anxiety) often happen when normal, modern-day stressors activate the sympathetic nervous system sending you into fight or flight. Many people who grew up in unsafe or emotionally unstable home environments know these feelings well, and their nervous systems may need extra attention.
The parasympathetic nervous system helps restore calm and equilibrium. It’s often dubbed the “rest and digest” to the sympathetic system’s “fight or flight.” This is where we like to be to feel calm and good. I have some tips below to help activate this.
How to tell when your nervous system is out of whack:
- You feel easily triggered and reactive
- Your sleep is way off
- You almost feel addicted to doing – being in a state of rest makes you nervous, even if you know you need it
- Chronic muscle tension
- Tension headaches
- You struggle to focus and with decision-making
- Your breathing is often shallow
- You suffer from frequent bouts of anxiety
- You have chronic indigestion
Ways to help regulate your nervous system:
- Deep breathing Try the 4-7-8 technique, or simply exhale longer than you inhale
- Cuddle with an animal and/or loved one
- Soothing scents and sounds
- Exercise and movement
- Therapy coupled with mindfulness and/or MBSR
- Take a bath or lounge in a steam room – water of any essence is soothing
- Protect your nerves with B vitamins and soothe the body with magnesium
- CBD, Kava, and marijuana may be used to help soothe and calm the system. Always consult a doctor before trying something new 🙂
I hope this helps you better understand how critical it is to tend to your nervous system – and remember that your body is a brilliant mechanism, but one that does need some love to overcome evolution’s wiring.