Simple Things You Can Do to Calm Your Nervous System

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“Learn to calm down the winds of your mind, and you will enjoy great inner peace.”

 –  Remez Sasson

It’s no secret that different types of stress, whether mental, emotional, or physical, can negatively impact a person’s health. Even thinking about that fact can be stressful! The nervous system takes a big hit under stress, so working on ways to sooth it is a big part of maintaining and balancing our well-being. When our nervous systems are overwhelmed, our bodies are designed to adapt and make up for the stress—but only for short periods of time. Chronic stress—which, let’s face it, most of us deal with—puts lots of pressure on our bodies, making it extra important for us to practice calming down.

New research has found that the large intestine is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that make up the microbiome, which comprises about 90% of the cells in the human body. Microbes in the intestinal tract respond to stress, sending emergency alarm messages to the central nervous system and brain. The gut perceives the threat and sends its own emergency signal to the brain, when then alerts every cell in the body. Throughout our evolution, these emergencies—often referred to as fight-or-flight responses—have typically been short-lived, triggered by real threats to our survival, like a tiger chasing us down.

Once the emergency is over, the body moves into a restorative mode, which activates the digestive system for nutritional replenishment, structural support, and the rejuvenation of the body to repair any damage caused by the life-threatening situation. Studies have shown that neurotransmitters, which regulate how the nervous system reacts to stress and stabilizes moods, are produced and stored within the intestinal tract. It’s important to note that 95% of the body’s serotonin is found inside the large intestine; only 5% of it resides in the brain at any given time. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important for us to find ways to calm our nervous system. We can do this with meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises, all of which send a calming signal to our intestinal microbiology, which then delivers a message of peace to the brain, central nervous system and, ultimately, every cell of the body. In addition to engaging in these activities to calm the nervous system, supporting the health of the intestinal tract and microbiology is also a good practice. Here are a few ways you can start supporting your intestinal health and soothing your nervous system.

1. Meditation

Meditation has been shown in numerous studies to rebuild, support, and strengthen the nervous system. Research has shown that meditation is linked to optimal health and longevity.

2. Yoga

Some advanced yogis can control their bodies in extraordinary ways, thanks to the help of their nervous systems. Scientists have monitored yogis who could induce unusual heart rhythms; generate specific brain-wave patterns; and, using a meditation technique, raise the temperature of their hands by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. If they can use yoga to do that, perhaps you could learn to improve blood flow to your pelvis if you’re trying to get pregnant or induce relaxation when you’re having trouble falling asleep.

3. Nose Breathing Exercise

When people breathe through their mouths in a shallow fashion, limiting the breath to the chest cavity, the fight-or-flight mode of the nervous system gets activated. Breathing through the nose, on the other hand, stimulates the calming, restorative, digestion-boosting parasympathetic nervous system.

4. Nature Therapy

It’s hard to ignore the peace and calm that exist in the natural world. Living in the 5-day-plus-per-week rat race, working 40-60 hours every week, squeezed between personal and professional stress, is the antithesis of peace and calm. Many people connect with nature as a way to get some exercise—by taking a hike in the woods, going running, enjoying a swim in the pool or ocean, etc—but they’re also excellent ways to get some peace of mind.

5. Massage

Studies show that when you intentionally give yourself a massage, massage someone else, or hug someone in a loving way, the health-and-longevity-promoting hormone, oxytocin, is released.

There are also millions of nerve endings on your skin. Whenever something touches your skin, you feel it. Putting oil on your skin will enhance that sensory experience, creating a neurological calm throughout your body. This is a fascinating and incredibly nourishing technique to calm and soothe the nervous system.

6. Eating Relaxed

Eating in a relaxed manner activates the calming and soothing parasympathetic nervous system; conversely, eating on the run or under stress activates the fight-or-flight-based sympathetic nervous system. Make it a point to plan ahead for meals so you have enough time to relax and enjoy the process of eating your food. It’s best to do this without distractions such as TV, smartphones, reading, or driving. Calming music or conversation is best.

7. Eating A Big Lunch

Eating a light breakfast, a big lunch, and a light dinner is a stress reduction strategy that’s been used for thousands of years across the globe. Today’s science shows that eating this way de-stresses the body and allows it to function in harmony with the circadian rhythms that align with our optimal health.

8. Early to Bed, Early to Rise

As a way to reconnect with our natural circadian rhythms, we should aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. This is key for the rejuvenation and detox of the nervous system, which happens while we sleep!

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

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