Health in Recovery: Bringing Your Nervous System Back Into Balance
Did you know that if your nervous system is out of balance it will impact you physically, emotionally, and mentally?
People often think of physiological challenges as just being responsible for the physical body, but this is not true. Our mood fluctuations, ability to make good decisions, and capacity to experience the feel-good emotions are all impacted by the nervous system. It is the primary vehicle through which the body sends messages to different areas. Additionally, it is heavily involved in our ability to produce hormones, which is the epicenter for how we feel on a daily basis.
Processing Trauma With a Trauma-Informed Specialist
Recovery, and life for that matter, takes a lot of energy and stretching for most of us. We have to be mindful of our thoughts, impulses, and emotional state in order to keep things going in a positive direction.
Of course we will have highs and lows, and the lows need us to pay attention to them so we can heal. But sometimes we can be suffering needlessly based on our nervous system ramping up too far or crashing too low. This is extremely common for people who have suffered any sort of trauma. It is as though they live in a perpetual state of anxiety or in a state of depression and low energy.
Because I see how common this is, I wanted to take some time to discuss ways you can work with your nervous system to bring it back to balance to the best of your ability. That being said, if someone has suffered trauma, you will want to work with a trauma-informed specialist, who will go in far more depth than the simple at-home practices we’ll discuss here.
The practices listed here are still of use however, and are great adjuncts to the serious work being done with a professional.
Recovery and Your Nervous System
One of the most obvious ways to support your nervous system is through the senses, such as smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste.
This is clearly illustrated by how you feel at the beach with a nice warm breeze and the smell of salt air. The body and mind relax. There is nothing you have to do; the sheer fact that you are experiencing it calms you. This is because we are always responding to our environment.
If we are in the woods, we feel much differently than we feel in the streets of New York City. This is directly related to the input of the environment – the smells, sights, sounds, and so forth.
There are very simple ways you can help your body and mind relax. Let’s start with smell. Essential oils, candles, incense, or anything else that might smell good to you. Lavender is one of the most calming scents there is on the market. Other good ones are Earth scents, such as pine, cedar, and Bergamot. These are very grounding and help a person move the energy from the head to the body. The more in the present you are, meaning the more in your body, the less anxiety and overwhelm can make its way through your system.
Listening to music that is specifically for calming the mind is a very powerful way to get a grip on your current state. One of my personal favorite musicians for this purpose is Stephen Halpern. He has scientifically proven that his music can help people’s systems relax. You can find more on him here. There are many others; you can simply Google if he is not a fit for you.
Touch is another very important regulator for the nervous system. The most obvious of this would be the touch of someone you love that reminds you that you are cared for. A hug is the simplest example of this. We are actually hard-wired to need touch and, if we do not get enough of it as babies, it has been proven that our brains do not develop as they are meant to. If that was you, do not let this worry you because the mind is pliable and new pathways can always be developed. If you do not have access to other people to support you through touch, you can get massages once a week, take warm baths (the warm water acts like a touch agent), or lay outside and let the breeze move over your body. The key in all of these instances is to be in a state of receptivity. Imagine that you are soaking it in with your skin. Let go, exhale, inhale the touch. Breathe.
Sight is another simple way to calm the system. Catch as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Watch the tree leaves move, and take in the natural beauty of nature as often as you can. A full minute is better than nothing at all. You don’t have to take a vacation into the woods to reap the benefits. There are studies that prove going to the beach and watching the waves actually changes your body’s chemistry. This is not a bunch of woo-woo talk, it’s science! You can read up more on that here.
Optimal Relaxation and Health
There are endless ways to engage your body’s parasympathetic nervous system for optimal relaxation and health. In case you are not familiar, the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge of helping your body be calm enough to properly digest your food, help slow the heart rate, help you sleep better, and is a requirement for healing and restoration of all systems.
In a world where there is so much focus on getting to the goal, we often forget that if we don’t do the self-care needed during our down time, we will not be able to flourish enough to get there.
Our health and emotional well-being is in our hands. We most certainly do not have to figure it out on our own and can call upon the resources of trusted professionals and research. I believe that all people should have the privilege of feeling safe and calm, and I truly hope that some of these practices can be of benefit to you.
Images Courtesy of iStock