Those who are an old hand at complementary therapies such as yoga or meditation will be well acquainted with mentions of the exotic sounding parasympathetic nervous system. In brief, this is the part of the nervous system- the nerve network that affects all our bodily functions- which is concerned with the so called ‘rest and digest’ actions in the body. It is the part of the nervous system which works in conjunction with the sympathetic nervous system, which takes care of the more active ‘fight or flight’ type responses. These two parts work together to carry us effectively through stressful times, allowing us to activate our need to react quickly to situations and then calm ourselves down again after.
While we are naturally always seeking to find equilibrium, with the two parts of the nervous system working together to make sure that we are not stuck in either of these flight or flight, or digest and rest modes for too long, sometimes we can get stuck. In times of consistent high levels of stress our nervous system can get locked in to staying in a heightened state and it is in these instances that it can be hard to then get away from this panicked feeling. Being able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in times like this can help calm both the body and brain down quickly and help restore a sense of peace.
It is interesting to note that in general there is a huge societal push to overcome this very important need to rest and restore. You only need to take a quick glance in a bookshops self help section to notice that a lot of it is aimed at showing us how to get the most out of every waking second, how to maximise our skills and how to hone productive habits. This idea of working at full capacity and powering through stressful times is not often sustainable and keeping yourself in such a heightened state can often result in a huge crash later on.
It is therefore important to relearn how to harness the power of slowing down and to be more in tune with when your body and mind need to rest. Using simple techniques such as mindful breathing, journaling and slow meditative movement such as yin yoga can make a real difference when you are feeling overwhelmed. Being in touch with nature has also had proven positive effects on the parasympathetic nervous system; stroking a pet, watching the birds or going for a walk in a green space can all help regulate your energy levels. A lot of these techniques can feel a little elaborate when you are in the moment but even just standing outside and breathing 10 deep breaths into your belly can help bring your parasympathetic nervous system into play and give you a sense of control over the stressful situation you are grappling with. And the great news is that the more you practise activating this part of the nervous system, the quicker you will be able to utilise it and use it intuitively.
If you feel however that you are suffering symptoms of being overstimulated on a regular basis and are finding it hard to regulate your mood and emotions, why not get in touch with a mental health professional who will be able to guide you through figuring out what is keeping you in this high state of stress. Here at The Henry Centre, Southend we have a number of highly qualified counsellors and psychotherapists who have the skills to help you work through what is going on in your life at the moment and try to discover the root cause as to what is stopping you feeling at your best.