5 Nervous System Regulation Techniques to Stay Grounded
We’ve all been there – going through our days *casually* feeling like an Instant Pot filled to the brim with anxiety and ready to burst at any second. The reality is, that it isn’t healthy. The best thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself a break. In other (more fancy) words, deregulate your nervous system. It’s one of the best ways to take care of yourself and truly let yourself feel all of the feelings. Here are 5 nervous system regulation techniques to stay grounded (and finally hit release on the pressure cooker).
- Regulating your nervous system helps the body maintain homeostasis and plays a vital role in regulating emotions.
- Using regulation techniques minimizes the fight or flight response of our bodies and maximizes the relax and digest response, calming us down.
- 5 nervous system regulation techniques include taking deep breaths, visualizing your emotions, moving your body, letting your mind wander, and thinking positive, self-loving thoughts.
What does it mean to regulate the nervous system?
When we bottle up all of our feelings and emotions, it forces negative energy into specific parts of our bodies and minds and blocks positive energy from reaching other parts. The feeling of being unable to express and control our feelings facilitates the build-up of negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and anger, ultimately turning us into one big pressure cooker.
Long story short: regulating your nervous system allows the body to maintain homeostasis (equilibrium throughout the body), achieve a restorative night’s sleep, reduce inflammation throughout the body, and plays a critical role in memory, learning, emotion regulation, and sensory and auditory processing. It’s estimated that almost 70 million people worldwide suffer from some sort of nervous system dysfunction.
The question is: how do you know your nervous system is deregulated?
Common signs and symptoms of a deregulated nervous system include having a hard time focusing, regulating your emotions, and sleeping, as well as experiencing an array of digestive problems, headaches, and unexplained body pains. Honestly, these symptoms seem to be the symptoms for almost everything, so it’s also important to take note of some of the reasons your nervous system can become out-of-whack in the first place.
Think about it like this: one of the (unconscious) mind’s main jobs is to interpret stimuli. There are internal stimuli such as stress, anger, and anxiety, and then there are external stimuli, such as traumatic events or stressful situations. Unconsciously, the mind is constantly seeking out those cues of stress and “danger” to ultimately send us into fight or flight mode to protect ourselves from the situations. These situations include stress, anxiety, poor sleep, conflicts in relationships, trauma, depression, and built-up pressure cooker emotions.
When these stressors happen repeatedly or without being managed, or over long periods (helloooo worldwide pandemic), it can lead to deregulation in the body and mind.
What does regulating the nervous system do?
Understanding the purpose of nervous system regulation requires a quick brush-up on nervous system anatomy. Essentially, there are two main components: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. These partners in crime are both parts of the automatic nervous system.
The parasympathetic system regulates the body’s ability to relax. Oftentimes, it is called the “relax and digest” state (where we refuel and recuperate.) The sympathetic system controls the body’s fight or flight responses. Many things in our day-to-day lives instill chaos in our sympathetic systems, causing the body to feel like it is in danger. Think: giving a presentation, being late to work, getting pulled over, or going to the dentist.
The parasympathetic system on the other hand regulates this. It sends signals from the brain to the body, and back from the body to the brain. This system communicates what is actually happening around you, rather than telling your body how to react. When functioning and regulating properly, it can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke in the long run, boost your metabolism, and ease the symptoms mentioned earlier of a deregulated nervous system.
Sometimes though, our nervous systems could use a little help. Using regulating techniques will turn the volume down on the chaotic fight or flight response while simultaneously turning the volume up on the peaceful relaxation and digestion response. Slowing things down on a biochemical level will soothe, calm, and relax the mind and body.
5 techniques to regulate the nervous system
It is important to note that nervous system regulation techniques are not ways of avoiding stress forever, but rather, they are ways of helping your body to manage your emotions in a healthier way. It is normal (and inevitable) to continue to feel stressed, anxious, or angry, but understanding some of these techniques can be helpful to learn how to cope with your emotions for the betterment of your physical and emotional well-being.
- Deep breaths
I know, taking “deep breaths” is advertised everywhere as an easy solution to your problems, but that’s honestly because it works. Focusing on breath work is one of the most simple, yet effective ways to regulate your system because it shifts your body away from the fight or flight response.
Taking deep breaths operates as a dual control system, meaning it works both consciously and unconsciously. Practice slowing your breath down in a conscious and controlling way, ensuring that you focus on your exhales before taking your next inhale. Most importantly, don’t stop after 30-60 seconds. Practicing for 10-15 minutes absolutely works. Lastly, this technique is great to practice when you’re okay and neutral so you don’t have to learn to grasp it only when you’re panicking. It should be a practice that you can learn and rely on.
- Visualize your emotions
When our bodies are deregulated, feelings and emotions are often magnified, making it more challenging to grasp them. To help with this, it can help to visualize whatever emotion you’re feeling and picture yourself physically putting this emotion in front of you to aid in creating a boundary between you and your emotions. Additionally, in combining this practice with taking deep breaths, try visualizing yourself exhaling all of the negative emotions to feel them leave your body.
- Move your body
There is a reason that moving your body is so beneficial, and it extends well beyond the physical health benefits. As previously discussed, our bodies are primed for a fight or flight response. When we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is normal that we try to sit there and “stay calm” as a way to cope. It is important to realize, however, that this doesn’t meet us where we’re at… at all.
Regular movement assists the body in naturally and consistently completing the stress response cycle. It ultimately funnels all of the anxious energy out of your body and into a more healthful, wholesome place. Think about it: movement just makes sense. Walk, run, swim, dance, practice yoga, skip, stretch – you name it – don’t undermine movement as a solution.
Practicing detailed mind-wandering is an effective solution you can practice anywhere, anytime to regulate your nervous system. Similar to visualizing your emotions, try envisioning a beautiful picture in your head, something or somewhere that brings feelings of joy or peace.
Close your eyes and let your mind wander through the image, reliving the experience or imagining the positive feelings until you feel calmer. Positive visualization creates a frequency in your brain that overcomes the negative frequency of stress and anxiety, calming the nervous system.
- Positive thoughts
When experiencing nervous system deregulation, our brains often feel clouded with overwhelming, negative thoughts. To fight this off, try thinking of your favorite books, movies, exciting plans, or calming memories.
Additionally, the way you talk to yourself matters. Think positive thoughts about the situation or about yourself; you’ll be less likely to linger in the doom and gloom of the overwhelming negativity. Look in the mirror and say something nice to yourself today because you deserve it.
Written by Morgan Taylor