How to Heal & Balance Your Nervous System
Are you frequently on edge or overwhelmed? Feel fatigued during the day? Highly sensitive to other people’s emotional states? Have gut or skin problems? Do you have trouble sleeping? Often get sick? Are you irritable, snappy, or reactive? Do you suffer from anxiety? These are all signs that your nervous system may be in a state of dysregulation.
The nervous system is an important part of overall body functioning. It regulates the body’s responses to stimuli and maintains normal body functions, such as digestion and sleep/wake cycles. When the nervous system becomes dysregulated due to chronic stress, anxiety, trauma, or genetic factors, it can have a profound impact on our overall health.
The “fight or flight” response is a natural stress response and it is a critical function of the automatic nervous system. It is our body’s way of warning us of a perceived danger or threat. It is designed to protect us. When our body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode we often have an increase in blood pressure and elevated heart rate. It also slows or stops normal body functions like digestion until the threat is gone. This is a great survival tool but it causes problems when it is chronically activated, leading to a dysregulated nervous system. If this sounds like you, you may be wondering how to put your body back into a regulated, more balanced state, also called “rest and digest”.
At CW Psychological Services in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania mental health and wellness professionals—like associate therapists Christina Rivoire and Acacia Masso, and counselor Dorothy Gail Monteith, among others— frequently work with clients to re-regulate their nervous systems. It is also an important part of trauma therapies like EMDR. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for re-balancing a nervous system but there are many tools that can help. Here are some of our favorites:
1.) Light Movement —There are many benefits to exercise but light movements, such as walking, jogging, dancing, or yoga can help with awareness of the mind and body. Movement fosters stress relief. When feeling dysregulated, choose light movements that release endorphins, like a walk outside in the fresh air or a restorative yoga class.
2.) Deep Sleep — Seven to nine hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep is critical to your overall health. During sleep, the body has a chance to rest and repair itself. The brain also uses this time to cleanse itself of toxins that can build up during the day. If you have trouble sleeping you can improve your circadian rhythm by exposing your eyes to the sun in the morning and minimizing exposure to light after sunset. It is also best to avoid eating 2-3 hours before sleep and limit exposure to screens 1-2 hours before sleep.
3.) Deep Breathing — Breathing deeply is one of the quickest ways to calm your nervous system. Try sitting in a comfortable spot and inhaling through your nose, fully expanding your abdomen and chest, and then exhaling through your mouth. Make your exhale longer than your inhale. Concentrate on airflow as it moves through your mouth, nose, lungs, and belly. You can also try closing your eyes and putting your hand on your chest to feel it expand. During this process, you should begin to feel your heart rate slowing and your body and mind relaxing.
4.) Chanting, Humming, and Singing — Chanting and singing can relax your nervous system. Chanting involves repeating a word or phrase over and over again, such as “You are OK, you are safe.” The repetition can help to quiet the mind and focus the thoughts. Singing can be fun and a great way to shift focus and relieve tension. Try giving yourself a personal concert (No judgment here!). Humming a low sound can also have calming effects on the mind and body — think deep in your belly (Om…).
5.) Walking Barefoot in Nature — When your feet touch the earth, they receive energy that promotes relaxation. It is a process called “grounding” or “earthing”. You connect with the earth’s surface through your feet, calming your nervous system. Nature also has a calming effect on the mind. Grounding can help heart rate variability, inflammation, sleep, and cortisol regulation.
6.) Massage— Massage is a common way to relax the body. It also helps the mind. It can improve circulation and help reduce stress hormones. It helps reduce pain and inflammation. Massage allows oxygen and blood flow to move freely throughout your body and teaches your body how to relax during moments of high tension and stress. When your body is relaxed, your mind follows.
These are just a few of many ways to help regulate your nervous system and bring it back to a place of ‘rest and digest,’ rather than ‘fight or flight.’ If you are struggling with finding more calm and peace in your life, consider seeking the help of a counselor or therapist. They can help develop a plan for healing your nervous system that fits your life.
A happier, calmer future is just around the corner.
Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?
Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online or telehealth therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call (610) 308-7575. We want to help.