Healing a Stressed Out Nervous System

In the last 30 seconds, have you blinked your eyes? Clicked your computer’s mousepad or pressed a button on your phone? Have you noticed a fragrance? Heard a sound? Felt warmth or coolness? Day dreamed? Experienced an emotion?

You may not know it, but your nervous system is to thank for all of this (and much more!).

The nervous system has two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS is made up of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord, which act as the control centre and process information from the rest of the body. The CNS is also responsible for language, creativity, emotions and personality; basically, it decides who you are, including how you think, feel and act.

So the nerves in the brain and spinal cord comprise the CNS – what about the rest of the nerve cells in your body (there around 100 billion of them!)? Well, they form the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The PNS also has two parts: the autonomic nervous system (which regulates involuntary processes, such as blood vessel dilation and heartbeat) and the somatic nervous system (which regulates conscious movements, such as standing up).

And, just to make things a little more complicated (because the nervous system obviously needs more responsibility!!), the autonomic nervous system is further divided into the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system.

You may already be familiar with the sympathetic nervous system – it’s also known as the “fight or flight” response. It controls your reactions to stress and danger, such as increasing your heart and respiration rates, releasing adrenalin and suppressing digestion (so it can divert energy to more important bodily functions in the face of a threat).

The parasympathetic nervous system is also known as the “rest and digest” response, which soothes the sympathetic nervous system once the threat has been removed.

Unfortunately, with chronic stress and anxiety disorders on the rise, your sympathetic nervous systems may be kicking in more regularly (and for longer periods of time), causing unnecessary wear and tear on your body.  

Altogether, the nervous system plays a hugely important role for you and there are a few things you can do to protect and heal it.

1. Take some deep breaths through your nose.

Shallow breathing contributes to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, signaling to your body that it needs to prepare for a threat. When you breathe deeply through your nose, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, allowing you to become calmer and digest your food properly.

2. Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol.

After just a few drinks, alcohol can cause temporary disruptions to the nervous system, such as memory impairment, sleep disturbances and slower reaction times. However, prolonged alcohol use can also cause long-term effects to the nervous system, such as memory loss, weakness and sensation problems.  

3. Eat foods containing omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids and health dietary choices can help increase the brain’s resistance to damage and help improve cognitive ability. Other foods which can have positive effects on the brain and cognition include turmeric (thanks to the Curcumin it contains) and berries, including blueberries and strawberries, which contain flavonoids.  

4. Exercise regularly in a way which suits your body.

Exercise can complement the effects of a healthy diet, further supporting the nervous system and helping it heal. You may like to try gentle yoga, walking or Qi-gong to ease your way into regular exercise.

5. Create solid support systems and seek out company.

When you’re lonely, your brain can produce an excess of norepinephrine to activate the sympathetic nervous system and prepare your body for danger. As a social species, human beings naturally seek companionship as part of their wellbeing. So, organize a catch up with a friend, spend time with your family, or even go for a walk in a public place; anything which helps you feel more connected and part of a community.

6. Spend time in nature.

When you spend time in nature, you don’t have to pay attention to the same amount of stimuli, compared to spending time in city environments. Your brain has a chance to recover and allow you to heal attention fatigue, while also facilitating a restful experience.

Below, you’ll find a list of ideas for spending time in nature!

  • Cloud gazing: Find a quiet place outside where you can sit or lie down comfortably. Pay attention to the clouds as they slowly pass by. Notice any different colors and shapes and textures of the clouds.
  • Visit a botanical garden. Spend an hour or two meandering amongst the flowers, plants and trees, taking your time and to move slowly so you can connect with the world around you.
  • Go to a wildlife shelter. Do some research to find a wildlife shelter where people do their best to care for, rehabilitate and release native wildlife. Learn about the different animals and find out if you can help in your own way by donating, volunteering or sharing their efforts on social media!

7. Avoid triggers.

Triggers which potentially create a sensitive, weakened nervous system, such as toxic heavy metals (including mercury, aluminum, lead and arsenic) and MSG. These triggers can interfere with the proper functioning of the nervous system and may cause seizures and other neurological problems.

8. Prioritize sleep!

During sleep, the brain continues to work on consolidating new information and replenishing, so it can perform its normal duties when you wake up. The sympathetic nervous system also relaxes and the parasympathetic nervous system is more active, giving your body a chance to properly rest and heal.

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Articles written by our internal Daily Guru writers, who are certified & qualified growth & development professionals.