Let’s Talk About Nervous System Regulation
One of the most common complaints I hear in my therapy office is, “I feel overwhelmed”. In the fast-paced world we live in, it’s easy to feel like we’re constantly feeling waves of stress and anxiety. Our nervous system, which is responsible for regulating our body’s response to these waves, can sometimes feel like it’s in overdrive. That’s when “overwhelm” sets in. Just like any skill, mastering the art of nervous system regulation is achievable, and it can pave the way to a more balanced and peaceful life. Let’s talk about your roadmap to inner balance.
Understanding the Nervous System
Before we jump into the techniques for mastering nervous system regulation, let’s take a moment to understand the two key players in this process:
- Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS): Think of this as your body’s “fight or flight” mode. When activated, it prepares you to respond to stressors by increasing your heart rate, sharpening your senses, and pumping adrenaline. This is useful in emergencies but can become problematic if it’s constantly engaged.
- Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): This is your body’s “rest and digest” mode. When activated, it promotes relaxation, lowers heart rate, and allows your body to recover and heal.
Both components are crucial to our survival. We need to be alert and handle threatening situations and we need to be able to relax and be at ease.
The Roadmap to Inner Balance
1. Deep Breathing and Mindfulness
The cornerstone of nervous system regulation lies in your breath. Deep, mindful breathing is a powerful tool to shift from the SNS to the PNS. Try this simple exercise:
- Find a quiet place to sit or lie down.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to four.
- Hold that breath for a count of four.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of six.
- Repeat this process several times, focusing on the sensation of your breath entering and leaving your body.
- The most important thing to remember about breathing exercises to calm the nervous system is the exhale needs to be longer than the inhale. This activates the vagus nerve.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
Practicing mindfulness can train your brain to respond more calmly to stressors. I use an app called Ten Percent Happier. I enjoy 5 minute guided meditations. Or you can just spend a few minutes each day sitting in silence, observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment. This practice can help you stay present and reduce anxiety. Most of us can find 5 minutes to spare.
3. Exercise and Movement
Physical activity not only keeps your body healthy but also helps regulate your nervous system. Engaging in regular exercise releases endorphins, which naturally reduce stress. Find an activity you enjoy, whether it’s yoga, running, or dancing, and make it a part of your routine. My regular activities are walking, hiking, and yoga. If you find yourself with limited time just think about how to move your body more. Take the stairs instead of the elevator…park a little farther away…walk around the building….any way to get movement.
4. Prioritize Sleep
Quality sleep is essential for nervous system regulation. Ensure you get enough rest by sticking to a regular sleep schedule and creating a comfortable sleeping environment. Good sleep is part of having a consistent routine. Make sure you shut your screens down at least 30-45 minutes before you go to bed. And if you find your mind racing; worrying about something that you forgot to do, keep a notepad by your bed. Write down what is on your mind and let your brain know you will deal with it in the morning. Sometimes this is enough to help you settle down.
A balanced diet provides the nutrients your nervous system needs to function optimally. Include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals to support your well-being. One of my favorite books on this topic is This is Your Brain on Food by Ima Naidoo.
6. Seek Professional Help:
If you’re struggling to regulate your nervous system and it’s affecting your daily life, don’t hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide valuable tools and guidance.
Start with these techniques and make them a part of your daily routine. As you progress on this journey, you’ll find that the storms of stress and anxiety become easier to navigate, and the waters of inner peace become more accessible than ever before.
Mastering nervous system regulation is an ongoing process. Be patient with yourself and recognize that it’s okay to have setbacks. With consistent effort and practice, you’ll gradually find greater inner balance.
Just like any skill, mastering the art of nervous system regulation is achievable, and it can pave the way to a more balanced and peaceful life.
If you want to talk more about learning to regulate your nervous system. Give me a call. 817-307-8725.
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Dr. Lee LeGrice is a psychotherapist with offices in Denver, Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas. In her practice, she focuses on two main areas: relationships and anxiety. A specialty of hers is helping people create safe, secure, loving relationships.
Let’s face it, relationships are challenging! Healthy relationships don’t just happen, they take work! She feels passionate about putting attachment theory into practice for herself and her clients. And she wants the same for you.