Your nervous system is like your body’s command center, and knowing how to balance your nervous system when things start to get out of whack can play a big part in how you feel.
As a fitness instructor, stress resiliency & nutrition coach I can honestly tell you I don’t care what you weigh. I don’t care what size clothes you wear. What I do care about is how you feel. And when your nervous system has been on the fritz for a while, you don’t feel great.
Something else I know about having a nervous system that isn’t quite working optimally is that you are probably experiencing higher stress levels, and may have been experiencing them for a while. As I’m writing this it is September 2021 and we are about 18 months into the COVID-19 Pandemic, so it’s easy to say that a large percentage of us have been experiencing higher than normal stress levels for at LEAST that long.
Inability to fall, and stay asleep, lethargy, weight gain, lack of interest in things you normally enjoy, feeling like you are failing at everything and accomplishing nothing. Sound familiar? If so, it’s ok. You are not alone.
DISCLAIMER: If you aren’t sleeping and/or if you are having heightened anxiety/depression, you need to seek out medical adivce. While the tips sharing in this post can help start to bring things back into balance, this isn’t a “snap of your fingers” remedy, nor will it solve those types of issues. Can these things help someone with sleep issues, anxiety, or depression? Possibly. But this is not a solution for those issues.
I wish I could tell you that if you spend 10 minutes doing this one specific thing it will “cure” you, but that’s not true. Instead, these are three small steps that you can begin to implement today that will help bring more balance to your nervous system. Even if it reduces your symptoms by 5%/week, wouldn’t it be amazing to feel 20% better in a month’s time without doing anything time-consuming or expensive? I certainly think so!
If you prefer to listen you can click the button below to enjoy my podcast on this topic:
3 First Steps to Bring Balance Back to Your Nervous System
While this isn’t about weight loss, there is an interesting study from the University of California that took place over 48 weeks. They had 2 groups of participants, one group took restorative yoga while the other took a general stretching class.
Forgive me for condensing this study down to a few lines but the highlights of the study were that the restorative yoga group lost nearly 2x the body weight and more than 2.5x the subcutaneous fat as the stretching group.
Why is that interesting? Because it indicates that the reduction of stress, and therefore cortisol levels, that came from a restorative yoga class versus a stretching class, had a significant impact on their overall wellness without diet or vigorous exercise.
Sure, it would be fabulous if we could all invest the time and money in taking restorative yoga classes regularly, that simply isn’t viable for more people.
Find a relaxing activity
So instead, I am urging you to find an activity that you enjoy that gives you that audible “sigh” moment when you do it. Those activities where you can feel your stress levels dropping almost immediately. For me, that happens when I go on a walk. I get lots of exercise through teaching classes, but those aren’t mentally relaxing for me. Even a relaxation-focused yoga class isn’t terribly relaxing when you have to teach it. Sure I finish with a more relaxed body, but my mind was still working the entire time. But when I go for a walk (really it’s a stroll, I am not out there to set a speed record), I can put my headphones in and listen to a podcast and just let my mind relax.
Some days I go for an hour-long walk. Sometimes it’s 10 or 15 minutes. Some days it doesn’t happen at all, but my intention is to go for a walk, even if it’s only a few minutes, most days. Because that is my relaxation time. I’m not checking emails or talking to anyone. It’s just me and (hopefully) some sunshine and whatever I’m listening to in my ears.
There are lots of other activities that give me that same feeling, but walking is the one that is easiest for me to insert in “most” days. For you, it might be spending 10 minutes on your deck in the sun. Maybe it’s having a hot shower that you aren’t rushing through, drinking a cup of tea or coffee. But it’s important that whatever the activity is – you don’t feel rushed doing it. Because if you feel rushed, well that defeats the whole purpose.
Smell the Flowers
Scents can really impact our emotions. When we smell a scent, the aroma is sent directly to the centre of the brain, to the limbic system, where it is processed and releases chemicals that can be relaxing, stimulating, etc. depending on the scent being used.
Now we could make choosing scents quite in-depth and complicated, but all I want you to do is think of a couple of scents that make you feel happy and/or relaxed when you smell them. Once again it’s that “AHHHH” or sigh factor. For me, fresh citrus scents and fresh coffee sents will always make me feel that way. So if I were choosing a go-to scent to help me bring balance back to my nervous system, I would probably choose orange. It’s inexpensive to get a bottle of wild orange essential oil, and I know every time I smell it, it will make me feel good.
What scents make you feel good just to smell them? And how easy is it to get a natural source of that scent? It might not change the world, but inhaling some of your favourite scents during the mid-afternoon slump many of us experience will definitely lift your spirits and release some of those happy chemicals in your brain.
Take a Breath
Yeah, yeah, you had to know the yoga instructor was going to sneak deep breathing in here. But it’s a good one!
Now, if you are experiencing anxiety it might feel physically impossible to take slow, deep breaths. In which case, skip this one for now.
Setting a timer for 60 seconds and focusing on full inhalations and full exhalations can do wonders for bringing balance back to your nervous system.
Remember, your nervous system always assumes the worse. High-stress levels? We are obviously getting ready for a famine or running away from a tiger. When you stop and take some full inhalations and exhalations it signals to your brain that you are not in a life-threatening situation and it can stuff off the flood of cortisol it was pumping through your body.
Why not couple your 60 seconds of deep breathing with inhaling some of your favourite natural scents? It’s a 2-for-1 deal!