Have you ever woken up in a panic and realized you slept through your alarm? Or maybe you completely forgot about an important deadline. High-stress moments like these trigger our fight-flight-freeze response, causing a release of adrenaline and hormones in our bodies. When you experience these moments often, your nervous system can easily become overloaded.
Your nervous system is essentially the command center of your body. When you take proactive steps to reset your nervous system after a stressful event, you’ll return to a neutral state more quickly.
Does Your Nervous System Need a Break?
To restore your nervous system, first you need to be able to recognize when its out of balance. There are 4 threat responses that signal your nervous system may need a break:
- Fight: You may feel angry or terrified, feeling the need to confront problems head on, even when it may not be the best course of action.
- Flight: You’re anxious and overthinking things, and would rather avoid your problems than face them head on.
- Freeze: You may feel frozen in place or notice an urge to shut down completely to avoid issues.
- Fawn: You feel overwhelmed, which may cause you to engage in co-dependent behavior like forgetting to enforce boundaries.
7 Techniques for Restoring Your Nervous System
If you’ve determined that your nervous system is in need of a reset, here are seven techniques you can use to calm down and reach equilibrium again.
Breathwork is a technique that you can practice no matter where you are. It’s just as simple as it sounds, yet it’s surprisingly effective. Spend a few minutes taking slow, deep breaths to signal your nervous system to calm down. To take it a step further, try pranayama exercises, a type of breathwork often used during yoga. If you’re a beginner, try this: get into a seated position and focus on breathing from your abdomen.
2. Cold Shower
Cold showers aren’t just nice for cooling off in the summertime — they also help decrease your fight-flight-freeze response by soothing the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system. Despite its benefits, a cold shower can be jarring and uncomfortable for some. An alternative is to just try splashing your face with cold water.
3. Hot Bath
If a cold shower sounds miserable to you, then try a hot bath instead. When you’re feeling stressed, soaking in a hot bath or even taking a hot shower can go a long way in easing your nerves. Research shows that being submerged in warm water helps lower inflammation, which is part of the reason why it’s so relaxing.
Sometimes the best way to relieve stress is by shaking it off — literally! Energetic movement may help release tension and trauma. How? Well, when we move our bodies, we burn adrenaline and release tension in our bodies, which helps the nervous system return to a neutral state. If you have a high-stress event coming up, try bouncing or shaking your arms to release the nervous energy you’re feeling.
5. Weighted Blanket
Weighted blankets can help you feel more relaxed and calm by applying pressure on your body in a way that feels almost like a giant hug. In some cases, weighted blankets may help make sleep disorders caused by stress more manageable. Before trying this technique, it’s important to get the right weighted blanket for you. Look for something that’s roughly 10 percent of your body weight for optimal comfort.
6. Cuddle Up
If you have a furry friend, you probably enjoy cuddling up with them as a way to bond. But did you know that it can also reduce stress and anxiety? Cuddling releases a hormone called oxytocin, which is commonly known as the “feel-good hormone.” If you’re someone who doesn’t have a pet, this technique can also work with humans, whether it’s your partner, a friend, or a family member.
Living in a digital age comes with its challenges. With notifications constantly coming in, it can sometimes seem like you’re never caught up, leading to feelings of anxiety. To combat this, try setting aside one day each week to unplug from all technology. Set your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and don’t even think of checking your emails. Instead, spend the day socializing or participating in an activity like hiking or reading.
The fight-flight-freeze response is completely natural, but sometimes events in modern life can trigger it even when there’s no threat to our safety. Utilizing these techniques to help restore your nervous system can help you relax even during your most stressful moments.