« If you just allow your Body and Mind to rest, the Healing with come by itself » – Thich Nhat Hanh
Before I start our journey through healing the nervous system, I would like to share a little bit about what it is, so that you can understand WHY its restoration is crucial for your recovery and rebuild a healthy body.
The nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of the body.
Image Credit: VectorMine / Shutterstock.com
The nervous system includes both the Central Nervous System (CNS) and Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). The CNS is made up of the Brain and Spinal Cord, and the PNS is made up of the Somatic and the Autonomic Nervous Systems.
The nervous system is implicated in the healing process of the body, whatever condition you may have. When our Sympathetic state is constantly activated, the body will not be able to heal. The activation of SNS suppresses the immune system, switches on the body’s survival mechanisms and shuts down all other processes in the body.
This is the exact reason why it is super important to keep the SNS as relaxed as possible to help your body heal.
What happens to our bodies when we get into Survival Mode?
"Survival Mode involves adaptive physiological changes in our body that help us respond to the stressors that we are faced with. When we experience stress, a sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses occur in our body that allow us to respond by preparing them to fight, flight, or freeze" (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018).
To understand this, we need to firstly understand the evolution of the human species. We did not always lived in the world as we see it today. Our bodies and their functions were built for cave men living in nature and needing to hunt to be able to eat and survive.
The Body's Survival Mode is literally the mode our bodies go in when feeling threatened for survival. We are actually made so we can fight for our lives in case a lion shows up while we hunt for our meal... Of course, this rarely happens nowadays, however the survival mode is like a primal survival instinct that may help feel a threat when there is actually one we may not see immediately. It reacts in a much faster way, like for example when feel the urge to move away for no reason and a second later something falls next to us.
So why is this a problem, you may wonder?
The society we live in has us live in constant SNS triggering mode: lights, noise, traffic, people arguing, phone, emails, messages and so on.
As you can imagine the "threat" is not even comparable to the attack of a lion, but in this case, our body doesn’t know the difference. And so we live in constant “Fight or Flight” mode even when there is no apparent threat to our survival.
As I explained before when the body enters this mode, it makes all the physiological changes so that your body keeps all the energy it has to be able to run from the lion. So to put it simply, each time your phone rings or beeps, your body's SNS is triggered and it automatically starts the physiological changes to activate the survival mode: increased heart rate and blood pressure, rigidity and constriction of muscles, shallow breath, adrenaline and cortisol production, decrease of white blood cells and so on. Cortisol and noradrenaline are generally “recycled” for most people by becoming glucose, fat cells and therefore creating low grade inflammation.
Depending on the state of your nervous system, you stress response might be a lot stronger than a person with a more regulated NS. I came to realize that people who are affected by a disease or health problems, have a much more disregulated nervous system, which means that their response to a stressor is much stronger and harder on the body.
Your Nervous System will experiences a mix of stressing and calming responses throughout a day. Perhaps you are driving and traffic is horrendous; when your nervous system is regulated you will feel some stress, but once you understand that you are not fighting for your life and you are safe, you can go back to being attentive to the traffic and listen to your nice music. Dr. Dan Siegel of UCLA coined the term “window of tolerance” to describe this space in which we can regulate ourselves without too much effort.
On the other hand, when your nervous system is not regulated and has been dealing with trauma, disease, chronic stress, etc, your window of tolerance will become longer and longer. This means that it takes your nervous system a very long time to get back to what we call the "Parasympathetic" State, instead it leaves you in fight or flight or freeze.
Your body should be in Parasympathetic State at least 80% of the times, and I know for a fact that ALL of my clients who suffer from any kind of disease have a very long window of tolerance. Their bodies are often rigid, contracted, their breath is shallow, they suffer from brain fog and extreme fatigue.
Symptoms like Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Depression, Mood Swings, Poor Concentration and Attention, ADHD, Poor Memory, Exhaustion, can all be indicators of a dysregulated nervous system.
When your SNS is in over activation, your body will never be able to heal properly! This is why I cannot stress enough the importance of learning how to reactivate your parasympathetic state.
So, how can we do that?
The number 1 technique to reactivate your Parasympathetic State is Breathing! Yup, you heard right!
Breathing is something that we all do automatically, however most of us do not really know how to breathe. We breathe quickly, we breathe by contracting the belly, we breathe from the torso. And do you know what that does? This increases our Sympathetic state even more!
Take conscious deep long belly breath throughout your day. Inhale from your nose, look at how your belly rises up, relax your muscles. Hold for a count of 5, and then exhale from your mouth, sigh, make sounds, stick your tongue out and let it all go. Let go some more as I am sure there is more to let go of...
Breathing seems such a silly exercise, but it is one of the most vital things we can do for our bodies. Do it whenever you can, at least 5 times a day, for 3 times each time.
Big Deep Sigh
A deep sigh is your body-brain’s natural way to release tension and reset your nervous system. Simply breathe in fully, then breathe out fully, longer on the exhale. Studies have shown that a deep sigh returns the autonomic nervous system from an over-activated sympathetic state to a more balanced parasympathetic state.
Move Your Body
If I can be honest here, I have never been sporty in my entire life. I had a short period of time when I went to the gym, but in all honest truth I have always hated it. However, moving your body is what is going to help you release the traumas, the negative emotions, stuck emotions and most important of all, it will help you oxygenate your body, which is turn it will help you create more energy in it and it will help your healing process even faster. I personally alternate flow expression dance, yoga, pilates and swimming whenever I can. Your body needs movement to properly function, whichever movement, even the smallest is a start.
Releasing emotions in your body does not have to be difficult, painful or awful.
It can be awesome, liberating and fun! It all comes down to the decision you are going to make: it can be excruciating or fun. Which one do you choose?
Choose someone who is going to be in your team and who is going to guide through through these practices. Once you do it, you will wonder why you have not done it before.
The sensation of safety a hug provides is unbelievable. Simple and easy, try it and you will see the effect it has! A hug releases oxytocin, the LOVE hormone that creates pleasant feelings in the body and is the brain’s direct and immediate antidote to the stress hormone cortisol.
I will be writing about the nervous system again, as I truly believe it is one of the most powerful subjects when it comes to healing.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask me either by email: email@example.com or DM me on Instagram: @francesca_happybalancedlife or Facebook: @francescagarola