How to Heal Your Nervous System

4 min
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Nervous system dysregulation is a surprisingly widespread phenomenon. According to Polyvagal Theory, which was developed by neuroscientist Stephen Porges in the 1990s, there’s a highly intricate system of signals transmitted between the brain and the body along the various branches of the vagus nerve. This pathway – which runs from the brain through to the abdomen – is integral to the functioning of organs and hormonal responses, as part of the Autonomic Nervous System. When the ANS is aroused by a sense of threat or stress, the fight or flight response kicks in. If the ANS is overwhelmed, the body begins to enter a freeze state, or shut-down. These responses are imperative for basic human survival, but the messages can get jumbled and result in chronic activation and dysregulation – which is detrimental to physical and psychological health. This strain on the body can result in all kinds of ailments, from anxiety to digestion issues, chronic pain, and life-threatening disease. Healing the nervous system is a vital piece of the well-being puzzle.

Listen to your body

Tuning into your physical reactions and responses is the first step towards healing the nervous system. The pace and trappings of modern life have created a damaging disconnect between mind and body, resulting in an over-reliance on medical intervention when things go wrong. But no one else can understand our own body the way we can. Start by paying attention to the sensations, reactions, and subtle shifts that take place day to day without judgment, just curiosity.

Understand your fight, flight, and freeze response

How do you react physically and emotionally to different occurrences in your daily life? Fight, flight, and freeze manifest differently when there’s no lion to run away from or wrestle with. Anxiety and panic are symptomatic of an unresolved flight response, while irritability and anger correlate with a nervous system in fight mode. Keep an eye on indicators such as heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, and racing thoughts, as well as the behaviors that can get triggered: binge-watching TV, disordered eating, alcohol consumption, and other addictions are all ways to numb out and cope with an overwhelmed nervous system in freeze. 

Recognise your triggers

The evolutionary function of the Autonomic Nervous System may have kept us safe from predators in the wild, but we haven’t yet adapted to the stressors of the 21st century. What situations generate a physical fight, flight, or freeze response in your body? They might not necessarily be negative, and they might not make sense – for many people, it’s the chronic stress of a workaholic culture. Triggering situations are often harmless in themselves, but the nervous system is activated by an association with a trauma that you may not even remember. 

Find support in your recovery

Talking to a professional about your experiences, triggers, reactions, and behaviors is an important way to understand them. From there you can start to address the root cause of your nervous system dysregulation, and begin to overcome it. Find a therapist, coach, or holistic practitioner trained in supporting your healing journey, and seek out a community of people whose experiences you can relate to and share with. 

Soothe yourself through healing practices

Holistic practices are often effective at establishing a sense of safety and calming the nervous system. Yoga, meditation, breathwork, energy healing, or simple forms of self-care can have an immediate effect, but when practiced regularly, they can also contribute to long-term regulation of the nervous system. Treatments such as massage, reiki, and acupuncture are also highly beneficial.

Commit to the process

Ultimately, healing your nervous system is a daily commitment. The kinder you are to yourself and your body, the smoother your journey will be. Cutting down on caffeine, staying hydrated, and creating healthy habits for quality sleep can all help to regulate an activated system. And be mindful of how you regard yourself – negative self-talk amounts to having a lion chasing you inside your own head. Move gently and be patient.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journal that influenced this article: Autonomic Function

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