Life in today’s fast lane means stress often tags along for the ride. But don’t worry – there’s an ever-growing toolkit of practical strategies and techniques to help us calm our nervous system.
- Befriend Your Breath
Focusing on your breath is a powerful way to regulate your nervous system. Practice deep, slow, and rhythmic breathing to encourage relaxation and reduce stress. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few moments to inhale deeply through your nose, hold for a moment, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Bilateral Stimulation
Bilateral stimulation involves activating both sides of your body in a rhythmic, alternating pattern. This can help integrate and process emotions and memories, reducing stress and anxiety. Some examples of bilateral stimulation include tapping your thighs or feet alternately, or engaging in activities like walking, swimming, or drumming.
- Body Scan Meditation
A body scan meditation involves focusing your attention on different parts of your body, one at a time. This practice can help you become more aware of bodily sensations, tension, and discomfort, allowing you to release them and relax your nervous system. Start at your feet and slowly move your attention up through your legs, torso, arms, and head, noticing any areas of tension or discomfort and consciously releasing them.
- The Polyvagal Theory and the Vagus Nerve
The Polyvagal Theory suggests that our vagus nerve plays a crucial role in regulating our nervous system. Stimulating the vagus nerve can help to activate the “rest and digest” response, reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Some strategies to stimulate the vagus nerve include humming, singing, deep breathing, and gentle neck stretches.
- Shake It Off
Physical shaking or trembling can help release tension and calm your nervous system. This natural response to stress or trauma can be intentionally harnessed as a self-regulation technique. To practice this, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and gently bounce your knees while allowing your arms to hang loosely by your sides. You can also shake your hands, arms, and upper body, releasing any accumulated tension.
- Find Calm with Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness is a game-changer when it comes to stress relief. It’s all about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. After a long day, take 10 minutes to sit quietly. Observe your thoughts and sensations without trying to change them. This simple technique can help reduce stress and promote healing.
- Visualize Peace
Visualization is another helpful tool in the stress-busting toolkit. It’s all about forming a mental image of a place or situation that brings you peace. By directing your focus from stressors to calming thoughts, you can lower your stress levels significantly.
Pendulation is a technique that involves moving gently between sensations of tension and relaxation, helping your body to find its natural equilibrium. To practice pendulation, focus on a sensation of discomfort or tension in your body, and then shift your attention to an area of comfort or ease. By moving your attention back and forth between these sensations, you can help your nervous system find balance and regulate itself.