In our busy western world, it is easy to have great intentions for healthier stress free living but in reality it can be hard. Our nervous systems get busy and stay busy, often leading to increased states of anxiety and dysregulation or even burn out.
A healthy nervous system fluctuates between a sympathetic charge and parasympathetic charge, between action and rest. The sympathetic state allows us to mobilise, to increase our cognitive function, and to get ready for action. When in danger it is the sympathetic state that allows us to fight or flight. This is all OK unless we get stuck there through not enough unwinding time. We need to be able to switch off and allow our body to rest, digest, and recover through the parasympathetic nervous system.
It is all too common to want to fit in a long walk or have an hour-long gym session after work but find that life takes over and good intentions get squeezed out. When working with clients I like to offer the idea that we can do small things for a short time, in order to support our body mind.
The important message is that small practices add up, nourishing you day-by-day so that you discover supportive pathways of strength and resilience that lead to greater ease and confidence in engaging the challenges, stresses, and opportunities of everyday life.
Here are 16 hacks to calm your nervous system.
Listen to soothing music – that feels relaxing for you.
We each have different preferences, so notice which favourite tracks help you to let go. Is it Brahms or Beyonce? ABBA or Adele?
Step outside, take a breath of fresh air
If you can, take a step outside, notice your environment, and take a deep breath. You know it works when you’re in a stressful meeting so why not do it a bit more often.
Sing while you drive to work. Sing in the shower. Sing in tune or out of tune. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your neural pathways are being stimulated to reduce your stress.
Move while you make your morning coffee
Movement is good for our body in many ways, including to help it to shift easily from a sympathetic to parasympathetic state. Try dancing, shaking your limbs or doing 5 squats or stretches while you wait for your morning coffee to brew.
Take a deep breath and give a big sigh
Any time, any place. A big sigh relieves tension.
Have a cold shower in the morning.
This doesn’t have to be long. Just a minute or two at the end of your normal shower routine
Talk to people you love. Friends or family
Social engagement with people we like to be with is one of the best ways to regulate your nervous system. So try to make some diary time to visit friends, or even just to make a phone call.
Cuddle your pet dog or cat
The act of stroking a treasured pet releases neurochemicals to reduce stress.
Shake your body
Take a break from sitting at your desk to shake out each limb. A 5 minute shake can make a huge difference.
Instead of watching TV, take out your sketch pad if you have one, and draw something. Taking 10 or 15 minutes to draw or even doing some colouring will help your mind to switch off.
Have a little boogie while you cook the dinner.
Smell something nice
Essential oils, coffee, a fresh orange, freshly cut grass. Take time to notice the lovely smells when they appear.
Short breathing exercises
Breath in to 3 and out to 5. Do this 3 times. It will only take a few minutes and will make a big difference to your nervous system balance.
Take a few minutes each day to record or notice 3 things you are grateful for. A gratitude practice has been shown to have a big impact on our mood.
When you are lost in an anxious thought take two minutes to orient to your environment. Turn your head, notice the pictures on the walls, the weather outside, the noises around you, or the contact of the chair underneath you.
Squeeze the back of your neck and your shoulders with your hand. This can give an instant feeling of release.
These practices may not sound like much but when introduced to your regular routine they can make a big difference. And they can be fun too!
This article was first published in Northern Ireland Chamber Ambition magazine