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8 Effective Strategies to Calm Your Nervous System


Mar. 21, 2022 Psychology Today

It may seem counterintuitive and even impossible to remain calm amidst chaos and uncertainty. Exposure to news media is disturbing, and it would be reasonable to feel anxious, worried, helpless, and hopeless. Thoughts of fear can activate the threat and danger response in the brain. The amygdala, located in the middle brain, sends out signals to the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal systems, mobilizing oneself for protection. This is commonly called the fight-or-flight response. But without actively engaging in a fight or fleeing from a situation, the response is experienced as anxiety. Anxiety includes rapid heart rate, excessive nervous energy, tension in the body, and impaired mental functioning. It can also lead to disrupted sleep, and panic attacks. If one has a history of trauma, anxiety about current issues can trigger old traumas in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, intensifying the experience of anxiety and lack of safety.

If exposure to the news media is causing you increased anxiety and agitation, consider a reduction of media or even planned media fasts. Maybe limit your exposure to 30 minutes a day, or to once every other day, or even consider a fast of several days in a row? A reduced diet of news media may help you reset and calm your mind.

Nonetheless, we have to continue to live our daily lives and continue to be productive. Being anxious does not help. Anxiety interferes with problem-solving, concentration, and focus. Anxiety does not help the world, and it does not help you either. Call upon your inner strength and resources, focus on a productive goal, and free your mind so you can be proactive. Avoid substances that will intensify a negative mood or disrupt your sleep. It is very natural to reach for food or drink when you are anxious. Most commonly this includes having a drink of alcohol, eating crunchy salty foods, or eating sugary treats, chocolate, or ice cream. Caffeinated soda, coffee, and marijuana are particularly linked to increased irritability, agitation, and anxiety. Do you have a favorite stress food or drink? These may be momentarily satisfying and can temporarily mask uneasy feelings, but in the long run, may work against your stated goal to reduce anxiety. Can you find a satisfying substitute?

Consider these eight strategies to stay grounded and calm the nervous system.

1. Shift your diet. Choose whole (not processed) foods, sufficient protein, and a balance of nutritious fruits and vegetables. Some vitamins can help restore balance in times of stress, such as B vitamins, Omega’s, Ashwagandha, potassium, and magnesium, and/or a good multivitamin may help.

2. Drink water. Dehydration disrupts sleep, can cause headaches, and overall poor mental and physical functioning. Drinking water helps flush the system of toxins, restores Ph balance, helps with cognitive functioning, the digestive and elimination systems, temperature, sleep, and can reduce pain.

3. Engage your senses. When anxious, it helps to get grounded by engaging your senses. For smell: aromatherapy helps improve mood as the olfactory nerve is located in the limbic system, which is the control center for the emotional part of the brain. Touch: hold a smooth rock, soft blanket, or press your feet into the ground. Attention to the feet is a natural anxiolytic and a way to feel grounded. Sight: slowly look around from left to right, scanning your environment. Sound: Listen, what do you hear? Birds, or other sounds? Taste: let an ice chip melt in your mouth or savor a single bite of food. These strategies will help you feel more present in your body.

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