Updated: May 22, 2020
Did you know your nervous system has only two choices on how to respond to life? The autonomic nervous system is automatic and always activate in either one of two modes. This means we are either in sympathetic, “fight or flight”, or parasympathetic, sometimes called “rest and digest”. Both branches of the nervous system are needed for survival, but a balanced nervous system is truly the foundation for health.
We are living in a fast-paced world where we are continually bombarded with technology and artificial light, leaving us stuck in sympathetic “stress-mode”. In fact, the average American looks at their cell phone 80 times a day! The effects of technology on mental health, our nervous systems, and overall quality of life is becoming widely known through research. In my experience, digestive issues, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, and depression are just a few of the conditions I see with patients whose nervous systems are in sympathetic overdrive.
Luckily, we are adaptive beings and can learn new ways to react to life’s stresses differently.
Here’s what you can to do counterbalance stress and rebalance your nervous system:
Spend time in nature: humans benefit greatly from spending time in nature. Research shows it improves cardiovascular health & immune function while decreasing depression and anxiety.
Limit use: No cell phones or work while eating as it inhibits digestive juices. Turn off all sound alert notifications as it depletes dopamine (same neurotransmitter responsible for addiction).
Do not use devices at night: Light increases cortisol and inhibits melatonin levels, needed for long, restful sleep. Use “night- mode” and limit screen time before bed.
Last, try Dr. Sweet’s 'Breathing for Calmness: Re-setting the Nervous System 3-Part Breath Exercise'
Sit comfortably, feel your feet on the ground
Breathe in for 5 seconds
Hold for 5 seconds
Breathe out for 5-6 (or longer) seconds
Do at least 10 times
Just 10 breaths can re-set your nervous system from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic. So, try this breathing exercise before eating, first thing in the morning, before bed or if you are unable to sleep. You can play around with the counts/seconds for each part of the breath. The most important thing is to be even with the inhale and holding of the breath. The exhale can be even with as well or longer to induce more relaxation.