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3 Exercises to Heal Your Nervous System

By the end of this blog you will get a sense of the stress and relaxation response in the body and three exercises you can use to help regulate this branch of the nervous system.

Nervous System Fight ot Flight

Nervous System Fight, Flight, Freeze

Have you ever encountered the concept of fight, flight, or freeze? This pertains to our instinctive reactions when faced with a potential threat. The sympathetic nervous system becomes active in such scenarios, priming the body for action. For instance, picture yourself walking alone at night and suddenly hearing a loud noise. Your sympathetic nervous system would engage, elevating your heart rate, dilating your pupils, and redirecting blood flow to essential muscles—all in preparation to confront the perceived danger, escape, or remain motionless.


When the Parasympathetic Nervous System is Activated

The parasympathetic nervous system acts as the soothing counterpart to the fight/flight/freeze stress response, signaling to our brain that there is no immediate threat, and it's time to relax and rest. Envision a peaceful day at the beach, listening to the gentle waves. In this situation, the parasympathetic nervous system would be in action, leading to a reduction in heart rate, supporting digestion, and fostering an overall feeling of relaxation—communicating to your body that heightened alertness or stress is unnecessary.


However, problems arise when this stress response becomes too eager, triggering frequently or lingering excessively.


Nervous System Regulation

A healthy nervous system, maintains a delicate balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Meaning that it can transition like a wave from fight/flight/freeze to rest/digest. In this state, the sympathetic nervous system isn't overly activated. Your heart rate remains steady, stress hormones are at optimal levels, and the parasympathetic system contributes to a sense of calm.


Nervous System and Anxiety

Issues arise when the sympathetic nervous system is triggered without a genuine threat that requires a stress response, or when it lingers at a constant, low level below the surface. This points to a dysregulated nervous system. Picture being in a regular work meeting and suddenly feeling a wave of stress despite no danger. Here, the sympathetic nervous system is activated at an inappropriate moment. Conversely, if an individual consistently feels subtle tension and anxiety without any identifiable cause, it indicates an enduring dysregulation in the nervous system.


Nervous System Dysregulation


Many of us tend to gravitate towards a default mode where our nervous system undergoes dysregulation. This may look like experiencing heightened alertness, feeling stuck in an "on" mode, resulting in enduring sensations of tension and unease. This is called hyperarousal. The flip side to this could look like, persistently feeing fatigued and disconnected, as if stuck in an "off" mode, lacking the usual energy and engagement associated with a well-regulated nervous system. This is called hypoarousal.


Our brains and nervous systems can acclimate to a state of dysregulation. Put more plainly, there are times when, due to various reasons, our nervous systems adopt a recurring pattern that consistently results in feeling unwell. Imagine a situation where prolonged stress or unresolved trauma sets a default mode in our nervous system, creating a lasting sense of discomfort.


3 Exercises to Heal Your Nervous System

Incorporating the 3 exercises to heal your nervous system into your routine may contribute to improved relaxation response and a smoother transition from stress to relaxation..


Exercise #1 Deep Breathing

Deep breathing serves as a powerful tool to encourage harmony between the Stress and relaxation response. By increasing oxygen flow, it signals the body to relax, helping an under active relaxation response to turn on.


How:

  1. Find a comfortable seated or lying position.

  2. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four.

  3. Hold your breath for two counts.

  4. Exhale slowly through pursed lips for six counts.

  5. Repeat for a few minutes.

Benefit: The surge of oxygen calms the nervous system, promoting relaxation.



Exercise #2 Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This exercise involves systematically tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups, signaling the body to release tension.


How:

  1. Start with your toes, tensing for a few seconds.

  2. Release the tension, paying close attention to the feeling of relaxation.

  3. Move systematically through your body to each muscle group, repeating the process.

Benefit: Strengthens your body's ability to differentiate between tension and relaxation, enhancing your awareness of your physiological condition. As you nurture this heightened awareness, you develop a proficiency in identifying moments when your body is under tension, indicating the initiation of your nervous system's stress response. The overarching aim is that, through committed and regular participation in progressive muscle relaxation, your body can efficiently trigger a relaxation response without going through all muscle groups. Allowing you to promptly and effectively usher in a state of relaxation quickly.


Exercise #3 Imagery and Safe Place

Engage in imagery to transport yourself to a mentally soothing place, fostering relaxation.

How:

  1. Close your eyes and focus on your breath.

  2. Envision a safe, serene place in your mind.

  3. Immerse yourself in the details of this mental sanctuary. Engage the senses.

  4. Practice regularly for heightened effectiveness.


Benefit: Offers a mental escape and reinforces a sense of safety.


If you are interested in learning about therapy or would like to setup an appointment with Person to Person Psychotherapy and Counseling New Jersey & New York Services, call 908-224-0007 or email Amanda Frudakis-Ruckel, LCSW at info@person2persontherapy.com



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