The how-to guide to resetting your nervous system.

When you experience chronic stress, your nervous system starts to malfunction. Chronic stress will require resetting your nervous system to help alleviate all the physical and mental symptoms elicited by stress.

HPA axis dysfunction leads to anxiety, high cortisol, and more.

A stressful event activates the sympathetic nervous system which triggers the fight or flight response and pumps cortisol through your body. That cycle is generally short-lived. Once the stressor passes, then your body shifts out of the sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system and into the parasympathetic nervous system which is the “rest and digest” system. However, with chronic stress, your body does not experience that shift, and it can get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system. That means your body is constantly in a state of arousal and pumping excess cortisol basically nonstop.

The impact of stress on your health.

This can lead to several mental and physical health problems because your system never gets the ability to rest. I have a long list of the mental and physical problems that may be due to chronic stress and the malfunction of your nervous system. You can see that list here.

So how do you fix it? How do you teach your body to shift out of the sympathetic nervous system and into the parasympathetic nervous system? The short answer is you incorporate relaxation into your daily routine.

The go-go-go.

If you’re stuck in your sympathetic nervous system, chances are you rarely sit down and do nothing. Your mind is always racing and/or you are always racing around cleaning the house, staying busy with hobbies or activities, or working long hours at your job. You get stuck in a cycle of reinforcing the fight or flight response because it’s what is keeping you going and the constant going keeps the cortisol pumping.

So, in resetting your nervous system, you must learn to relax. But you must learn to relax in an effective way. The goal is to teach your body and mind that you are safe. If you do not feel safe, your body will not switch to the parasympathetic nervous system, because it feels like there is a threat that it needs to be prepared for.

Resetting your nervous system.

Meditation. Meditation is a fantastic tool to learn to relax. I talk extensively about it in my post here. Meditation forces you to physically and mentally slow down. It helps you to become more aware of your thoughts so that you can recognize what thoughts may be triggering more stress.

Diaphragmatic breathing. When we are operating from our sympathetic nervous system, we generally take short and shallow breaths. Diaphragmatic breathing can help shift you into the parasympathetic nervous system. It does this because the deep belly breaths signal to your brain that it is time to rest.

Resetting your nervous system can be done by relaxing and spending time in nature.

Recite a mantra. Get in a comfortable position, and take some slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Repeat to yourself, I am calm, I am safe, I breathe. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes every day do it multiple times a day if you can.

Go to a quiet nature space. Sensory overload is a real thing and that can add to chronic stress. Take some time to go sit or walk in a quiet place in nature, breathe fresh air, and feel the warm sun on your face.

Reduce your stress wherever possible. If you are working full-time and doing all the household duties when you get home from work, ask your partner, family member, kids, or roommate to help with the household chores to get some stuff off your plate. Talk to your boss about recruiting extra help if you have too many projects at work. Do a mobile grocery pick up order instead of going into the grocery store to save yourself some extra time.

Eat regularly throughout the day. It’s not uncommon to have irregular eating patterns when you are constantly stressed, but that only amplifies the sympathetic nervous system, because your body flips into survival mode without adequate food fuel. Eating signals to your brain that you are safe and can relax.

Find one relaxing activity to do each day. Basically, you just want to engage in any activity that will lower your heart rate and your breathing. Take a bath, journal, watch a funny movie, talk to a friend, etc.

It can take a while for this change to happen, so you need to be consistent. You must train your body to relax and learn to trust that it is safe to do so.