by Andrea Pacini
October 24, 2021
The question I’m asked most? “How do I relieve stress in my life?”
I think we could all benefit from some mindful stress reduction, am I right?
As we talked about in previous posts, navigating this modern world with a hefty dose of constant accessibility, doom scrolling and EMF saturation has anxiety and nervous system dysregulation at an all-time high.
This enhanced and constant state of threat activates the amygdala - the part of the brain responsible for survival and instincts during fear response, which then results in a flight, fight or freeze state. The brain’s top priority is survival so when the amygdala is activated, the frontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and logic, all but shuts down so the brain can go all in on safety and survival. This response creates a state of hyperarousal in the nervous system which in turn stimulates the release of cortisol and adrenaline, leaving us feeling depleted, overwhelmed and burned out.
I wanted to offer a mix ‘n match bag of suggestions so that you can tailor nervous system regulation to exactly where you are now. If you only have the capacity to implement one of these suggestions, that's amazing! You will definitely see a shift with that. Please don't add to overwhelm by thinking you have to do all of these steps perfectly tomorrow. Some days you may feel like adding and some days you may be up to experiment with a deletion, it's important to listen to your inner guidance and honor exactly where you are now. Forcing is never a recipe for success!
Note: These are broad generalizations that do not take into consideration your unique healthcare needs; please consult with your physician before implementing any new supplement.
Let’s start with the good stuff.
- Add more pleasure. Yep, you read that right! Oftentimes nervous system dysregulation is a result of hyperarousal and overwhelm. One of my favorite ways to combat this is to mindfully add in more of the good stuff that lights us up! What is something that you love to do but maybe quit doing because it wasn’t “productive” enough? DO MORE OF THAT THING! Schedule time into your week for play, creativity and activities that really, authentically excite you and make you feel good. This can range from baking to roller skating to finger painting to dancing to singing to stretching to listening to music to calling a friend or family member to sitting on a park bench and people watching (for full benefit, no screens during this time) to checking out a new restaurant, shop or gallery, to allowing yourself to curl up in bed with a favorite book or movie. Cultivate the habit of asking yourself “what would feel good to me now?” Notice somatically if you feel expansion in your heart or elsewhere in your body when you envision doing this thing – and then allow yourself to do it without guilt!
Hydration. Hydration can play a crucial role in nervous system regulation. Many of us are chronically dehydrated and don’t even realize it! Make sure you’re drinking enough clean water every day to keep all of your systems running optimally - this is a wonderful way to cultivate self-love and increase overall health as well. The common formula for water consumption is half an ounce to an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, so if you weigh 150 pounds, make sure you’re drinking between 75 and 150 ounces of water per day. For more information on working with water, check out this post.
3-3-3. When feeling overwhelmed and dysregulated, start by looking around you and naming three things you can see. Make a mental note or actually write them down. Next, listen. What three sounds do you hear? Again, make a mental note of three things you can hear or write them down. Finally - move three parts of your body, this can be wiggling of fingers or toes, rolling shoulders, circling wrists or moving the head slowly side to side. During this process, experiment with slowing your movements waaaay down as you do this and notice what effect, if any, that has on you.
More time in Nature. Spending just 20 minutes in nature has been proven to help increase serotonin production, energy levels and brain activity while decreasing anxiety, stress and depression. Grounding or "earthing," whether it's gardening, walking on the beach, sitting with your back against a tree or just laying down on the ground transfers the Earth's electrons into the body, helping to neutralize free radicals and heal inflammation. These activities also help restore and balance the root chakra, which is the foundational energy center responsible for our feelings of security, safety, strength and abundance.
Breathe right. Anytime your exhalation is a bit longer than your inhalation, you’re sending a signal to your body to drop into the parasympathetic nervous system – where deep rest and healing take place. Gently expand the stomach towards the ceiling like you're trying to blow up a medium-sized balloon inside of your abdomen, then lift the air upwards, filling up and puffing out the diaphragm, lungs and chest as much possible to the sides, front and back simultaneously. Try inhaling to a count of 4 or 5 and exhaling to a count of 6 or 7. This tones the organs within the abdominal cavity, increases oxygen supply which aids circulation, detoxification and digestion and allows the body to dispel the stagnant bacteria that accumulates in the lower lungs. To pump this up a notch, on the exhalation, slowly and deeply say the sound "vooooooo." This helps tone the vagus nerve and the generated vibration regulates all of the cells in the body. In addition to clearing brain fog, providing mental clarity, balancing energy and regulating hormone production, breathwork also assists with toxin removal as deep belly breathing acts as the body's pump system to stimulate lymph removal.
Tonics & Tinctures. Tonics, tinctures and supplements can be especially helpful in soothing the nervous system – some of my favorites are lemon balm, skullcap, oat seed, tulsi and rose. If you're not ready to take a tincture supplement, herbal tea is a great way to start working with nature's medicine! I love this tea blend from Herbal Revolution if you’re looking for an accessible way to start experimenting with herbal remedies. I advise consulting with your physician before incorporating any supplements however, they will better be able to advise how an addition would interact with your existing medication and individual constitution.
Sometimes we experience addition through subtraction!
Caffeine. Oof. This is a tough one for a lot of us - I know! But adding caffeine to a hyper-aroused nervous system is like adding fuel to a fire. It stimulates adrenaline production and can cause physiological symptoms such as racing heart, jitters and headache and can also contribute to dehydration. There are several nice coffee alternatives on the market these days that can help ease the transition (see Rasa, MUD/WTR, Four Sigmatic, Teecino). If it feels overwhelming to give up coffee forever (that’s a lot to ask!), try going without for one day and mindfully record any experiences you had in your body and mind as a result. Maybe you can build the coffee fast to once a week, then two days per week and increase tolerance from there.
Screen Time: Let’s face it, doom scrolling and comparing ourselves to influencers’ perfect lives does not have any healthy benefit to our nervous system health. Excessive screen time has also been linked to poor sleep and risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, poor stress regulation (high sympathetic arousal and cortisol dysregulation), and insulin resistance. Setting boundaries around social media and screen time can have lasting benefits however. (Read more about screen time boundaries in this post). I also recommended disabling all phone and email notifications. My life has improved exponentially since I stopped hearing the beep of incoming emails several times per minute! I also use the night shift mode on my iPhone to eliminate blue light exposure at night - this improves sleep quality and supports natural Circadian cycles.
- Inertia. Shaking the hands, arms or legs can help move an overwhelming charge out of the body. Animals do this in the wild to help them move through freeze mode. Try it, It's surprisingly satisfying! Breaking up the stagnant inertia freeze response in our bodies can spill over into other areas of our lives as well (it's recommended to move 27 things when we feel "stuck").
- Eliminate triggering foods: I’m saving the hard stuff for last! Some foods that can trigger hormone disruption and nervous system dysregulation are sweets, dairy, soda and pastries. I recommend just giving up one daily and notice how you feel without it. Traditional fasting and skipping meals can also increase adrenaline production so it’s not indicated for those who are currently battling significant anxiety issues.
I wanted to keep this post short, sweet and accessible but I'm sure we will take a deeper dive into this topic in future posts. Do you have any questions about nervous system regulation and how to support anxiety? Which of these tips seems most accessible to you now?
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