How to Regulate Your Nervous System to Fight Anxiety and Feel Calmer

How to Regulate Your Nervous System to Fight Anxiety and Feel Calmer

Return to a more stable headspace (Photo: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Whether it’s waiting for a first date at the bar, walking into a big job interview, or striking up a difficult conversation, at some point you’ve probably found your heart pounding so hard in your chest as you begin to wonder if you accidentally swallowed a little spike on your evening walk.

These moments of tension will punctuate our lives, and there is not much we can do about it. In fact, it’s completely normal to feel anxious or stressed from time to time in response to relevant situations.

However, experiencing disproportionate stress is a sign that your nervous system is out of control. Regularly experiencing fatigue, anxiety, depression, brain fog, gastrointestinal issues, and/or unstable energy levels suggests you may be operating in a “fight or flight” state. chronic.

The good news? By understanding the physiology behind this state, we can reprogram our brain and body and regulate our nervous system to respond more calmly to the demands of everyday life.

How does the regulation of the nervous system work?

Chronic stress is the result of a nervous system stuck in fight-or-flight mode (or the lesser-known “freeze” or “tawny” mode). What does it mean?

Your body goes into fight or flight mode in response to threatening situations. During evolution it might have been a rustling predator in the bushes, but nowadays it’s more like a scary boss or caretaker whose affection is unreliable. Your body registers these situations as dangerous, so alarm bells will ring if you encounter something similar in the future.

This mechanism was vital when the threat in question truly meant life or death, but in most modern scenarios, running a program in the present designed to combat a past threat can have adverse consequences.

Suddenly you’ll find yourself in a completely safe realistic situation, but as it reminds you of a past experience encoded in your nervous system as dangerous, your heart rate soars, your body tenses, you start to sweat and maybe even freeze you completely. You feel overwhelming anxiety even though you are rationally aware that this is a different situation and there is no need to be afraid.

If your first boss was always critical of your work, you might feel constant stress in your new job, even though that manager is friendly and appreciates your contributions.

If you had an unpredictable parent who picked on small mistakes, you might be afraid of your partner and apologize every time you make a mistake, even if they’re kind and understanding.

You’re not doomed to live on defense, however. With consistent practice, you can self-regulate your nervous system. Instead of operating from the branch that triggers fight or flight, known as the sympathetic nervous system, you can train yourself to respond from its “rest and digest” counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system.

woman taking a deep breath while drinking a cup of tea

Get out of fight or flight mode (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Six easy ways to regulate your nervous system and feel calmer

You are probably more familiar with the regulation of the nervous system than you think. All the yoga, breathing, and meditation folks keep suggesting? It’s not some mystical cure for depression or anxiety – it’s self-regulation.

But if contorting yourself into a pretzel isn’t your cup of tea, fear not. There are many other ways to regulate your nervous system that are often overlooked.

Bilateral stimulation

When you enter fight or flight mode, all of your mental energy is channeled into a single area of ​​your brain, the amygdala, designed to keep you alive and safe in threatening situations. As a result, the lower right hemisphere of your brain experiences an excess of brainwave frequencies.

By simply redirecting some of your focus and redistributing the energy, you can calm your brain.

Grab an object and move it slowly from side to side, following it with your eyes. You can also search YouTube for ASMR (Autonomic Sensory Meridian Response) videos involving hand movements or following lights. This redirects nerve energy and stimulates both sides of your brain.

Many people find it so soothing that they fall asleep, which also makes it a great solution for anxiety-induced insomnia.

Sun exposure

One of the best ways to keep your nervous system well-oiled is to regulate your circadian rhythm, or your body’s sleep/wake cycle. Aside from the usual advice – go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, put your phone away a few hours before sleep, etc. – try to expose yourself to the sun in the morning.

This signals that it’s time to go into “awake mode” and allows your nervous system to function reliably.

Morning sun exposure also promotes deeper sleep, and the better your sleep, the less your nervous system will be on the edge of the day.

woman taking a deep breath while holding her throat

You’re probably tensing your jaw right now – relax it! (Photo: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Vitamin B

Every nerve in your body is protected by a covering called myelin sheath. Damaged myelin sheaths have been linked to neurological imbalances like Alzheimer’s disease.

Even when not so extreme, worn sheaths can impact the overall functioning and well-being of your nervous system.

You can help your nerves stay healthy by making sure you meet the required intake of B vitamins. Folate, in particular, protects the nerves from chemicals that can cause damage.

To increase your folate intake, try incorporating more spinach, pomegranates, and beets into your diet.

Additionally, vitamins B1, B6, and B12 aid in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which play key roles in nervous system function and keep depression and anxiety at bay.

Exposure to cold water

One way to teach your body to feel safe in a wider range of stressful situations is to expose yourself to the cold. The cold activates our fight-or-flight mode, and when we consciously teach our bodies to relax in (safe) moments of discomfort, we expand our window of tolerance and make our nervous system more resilient.

Rest assured, you do not have to submit to the daily torture of cold showers to reap the benefits. Start where you feel comfortable, whether it’s holding your hands in icy water or being brave and submerging your face.

jaw relaxation

Jaw clenching is one of the most primitive fighting instincts, and many of us still do it subconsciously out of stress.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation – sometimes you brace your jaw due to stress, but chronic stress can make it second nature causing you to clench your jaw randomly throughout the day. This signals your body that you are in battle mode and can increase your feelings of stress for no reason.

By becoming more aware and consciously dropping your jaw, you are telling your nervous system that you are not threatened and that it is safe to relax.

A particularly good time to practice this is when falling asleep. Try sleeping with your head tilted back slightly to relieve the pressure in your jaw, and you may find that your sleep quality improves as well.

black woman closing her eyes in the bedroom

Rest is key (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

Digital detox

Your nervous system’s well-being relies on a certain sense of predictability, as unexpected situations trigger your fight-or-flight response.

Being plugged into limitless social media leaves your nervous system constantly open to outside influences, whether it’s a notification from your ex or some upsetting news.

By consciously choosing when to check your notifications or consume specific types of content, you prevent your nervous system from being rattled by these outside influences at all times.

Try disabling notifications so it becomes a choice to see who likes your posts.

Consider unfollowing or unmuting any accounts that drain your energy, whether they’re people you’re jealous of or depressing news accounts. If you want to connect to this content, at least it will be your choice at the right time.

Final Thoughts

Taking charge can be incredibly empowering when it comes to dealing with chronic stress and anxiety.

Yet try to remember that your life is not a giant self-improvement project. Do your best to implement these practices in ways that are fruitful for you, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you encounter life’s difficulties.

You are human – the ups and downs are part of the experience.

Do you have a story to share?

Contact us by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.

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