Master Your Nervous System Before it Masters You!
Why Regulating your Nervous System Matters
Stress, poor sleep, traumatic events, relationship conflict, depression, chronic anxiety, and difficulty managing frustration are all things that can cause the nervous system to become dysregulated.
To better understand this, you need to understand that it’s our mind’s job, specifically the unconscious mind, to interpret stimuli—both internal stimuli (sadness, anxiety, anger, etc.) and external stimuli (stressful situations)—and decide how to react. Essentially, the mind is constantly looking for cues of danger and stress to prompt us to act and protect ourselves.
When it comes to stressors like a global pandemic, work deadlines and relationship issues, the mind will send messages to the body that can look like anxiousness and depressive symptoms. These signals are trying to point to areas of our life that are harming us—they are messengers. However, when these stressors happen over a long time and become repeated events and are not managed, this can lead to a dysregulation in the mind, brain, and body.
What happens physiologically when your nervous system is dysregulated?
The autonomic nervous system has two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic (also known as the "rest and digest" state), and when you're nervous system is dysregulated, it becomes out of balance. “The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for managing stressful incidents and emergencies, becomes overly dominant,” Dr. Ho explains. So your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you calm down, relax, and rest, is unable to exert any significant control over how you are feeling, thinking, or behaving. In other words, the "fight or flight" response becomes overly active, putting your body in a very stressful, high-alert state.
Long-term stressors like a global pandemic can cause a constant state of unease, uncertainty, and worry. This can also happen as a result of past traumas. These traumatic experiences are manifested in our physiology, making our body think we are in a state of emergency constantly, and this is where the term dysregulation comes in. Our brain and body, when under constant stress or as a result of extreme trauma, is, over time, less and less able to enter into the ‘rest and digest’ state...which can impact our mental and physical health.”
Signs of a dysregulated nervous system
So, how do you know if you have a dysregulated nervous system? You’ll experience many symptoms that feel like fight or flight reactions such as difficulty focusing and regulating emotions, sleep disturbances, digestive problems, physical expressions of emotional symptoms like headaches or unexplained body pains, and physiological responses such as heart racing, dizziness, and feeling out of control. Other signs include body tension, feelings of panic or dread that come out of nowhere, or experiencing a “sudden ‘explosion’ of emotions in situations that do not necessarily require a drastic response.”
How to regulate your nervous system
Take deep breaths!
Deep breathing is a simple yet effective way to regulate your nervous system. Deep breaths help to restore control to the parasympathetic nervous system and send signals to your brain and body that no emergency is happening. In particular, I recommend doing a box breath exercise by inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding for 4 counts. Then repeat for a total of 10 rounds.
Box Breathing is Powerful - Try It Out
Box breathing, and many other powerful breathing techniques, are included in my breath coaching course for anxiety, stress and poor sleep. Breath Mastery Live Online starts 18th Jan, it consists of four coaching classes over four weeks.