If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed or extremely stressed then you need some tips to help with calming the nervous system! Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to fit in an hour-long yoga class during their lunch break and so we need something that’s going to help us feel calmer quickly. These seven expert tips can help you self-soothe and calm the nervous system when you need to do so in a rush.
Understanding Your Nervous System
Before we dig into how to calm the nervous system, let’s run through a brief explainer of what’s happening in your body when you’re feeling extremely stressed. We’ll refer to different parts of your nervous system throughout this guide, so here’s what each of them means.
The Sympathetic Nervous System
When you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed or stressed it is normally because your sympathetic nervous system has been activated. This is the part of our nervous system that puts us into fight/flight/freeze mode whenever our brain detects a real or perceived threat.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated it can:
- Make your heart beat faster
- Make breathing quicker and shallower
- Cause nausea or a ‘butterflies’ feeling
- Make you feel dizzy or lightheaded
- Lead to racing thoughts
- And even impact your digestive system and bladder
The Parasympathetic Nervous System
The opposite is your parasympathetic nervous system which is activated during calmer times and is sometimes known as the ‘rest and digest’ system. When we’re feeling extremely stressed we want to try and activate our parasympathetic nervous system to stop the fight/flight/freeze response.
If our parasympathetic nervous system is activated then your heart rate and breathing will slow, and bodily functions such as digestion will go back to normal.
The Vagus Nerve
Finally, the vagus nerves are the main nerves of the parasympathetic nervous system that act like a natural reset button for your nerve. This is the longest cranial nerve in your body, running all the way from your brain down to the large intestine. It also has influence over vital parts of your body such as digestion, heart rate, immune system responses and respiration.
Understanding how to activate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system can help us feel calmer quicker – so let’s move onto some tips to do just that!
7 Tips for Calming the Nervous System Quickly
Now we know how it all works, let’s dig into tips that will help you calm the nervous system quickly.
1. Deep Breathing
Long and deep breaths can slow our heart rate down and help stop any racing thoughts we might be having. One key way to do this is by ensuring your out-breath is longer than your in-breath.
One of the quickest and most popular ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is through conscious breathing. By breathing deeply we can let our parasympathetic nervous system know that it’s time to calm the body down.
Try breathing in for a count of 4, holding in for 7 and then letting a deep sigh out for 8. This 4-7-8 breathing technique is one of the quickest and easiest ways for calming the nervous system.
2. Write it Out
Getting your thoughts out on paper can be a huge stress-reliever (and it’s why we’re such big fans of the humble brain dump). Research has shown that journaling or writing down our thoughts, feelings and emotions can counteract many of the negative effects of stress.
You don’t need to write a whole novel, but just getting how we feel down on paper can really help calm the nervous system quickly. It gives us space to pause, reflect and process anything that might be making us feel stressed.
Try using one or more of the following prompts:
- I am feeling stressed/overwhelmed because…(write out in detail what is causing the stress)
- I can deal with this stressful situation by… (list 3 actionable steps you can take)
- My nervous system is telling me to… (rest, get fresh air, say no, etc)
- The best way for me to feel calmer right now is to… (list 3 calming methods that will help)
3. Weighted Products
Weighted products such as weighted blankets, pillows, vests and even weights themselves can have a positive effect on your nervous system. Adding weight can provide proprioceptive input to the brain which is thought to help your nervous system feel calmer and less overwhelmed.
We usually get proprioceptive input from normal day-to-day activities such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn; basically, anything that can create a little bit of resistance. However, you can also create proprioception by using weighted products – and it’s why weighted blankets have become so popular for anxiety and stress!
Try adding a bit of resistance or weight to calm your nervous system down, or even grab a couple of tins of beans to do some very quick weight lifting exercises.
4. Sing or Hum
Another quick way of calming the nervous system is to belt out your favourite song at the top of your lungs! Music can really help us relax and feel good, which is then combined with the deep breathing that we already know can activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
If you’re not a big fan of singing or don’t want to put on an impromptu karaoke session at work, try humming instead. Making ‘voo’ or ‘om’ sounds, or simply pressing your lips together and humming, can help with the long, slow out breaths that can calm your nervous system.
There’s plenty of research that says moving your body can really help calm the nervous system, but not everyone has the time to head to the gym whenever they’re feeling stressed out. If you want to calm your nervous system quickly then try a few minutes of dancing.
Just like with singing, even just the act of putting on your favourite song can be a mood booster. However, add in a little bit of movement and you’ve got yourself an effective calming technique! We love a kitchen disco at The Anti-Burnout Club, so here’s a member-curated playlist that can help get you moving.
6. Meditation or Mindful Moment
There’s a reason meditation and mindfulness has become so popular in recent times. It’s the ideal way to bring more calm and peace into your life, and you don’t need a lot of time to be able to use this technique.
Being mindful can help you focus your attention on the present moment and acknowledge any thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you’re not sure where to start, then this quick guide on beginning mindfulness should help.
Alternatively, grab your headphones and enjoy a guided meditation specifically for calming the nervous system. In just a few minutes, your breathing should return to normal and your heart rate should slow down.
7. Start Laughing
Laughter can engage our diaphragm and stimulate the vagus nerve, which then goes on to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to calm you down! Whoever said ‘laughter is the best medicine’ was really onto something, and it’s not just a cliche.
Even fake laughing can have the same effect, so you don’t necessarily need to start looking up funny jokes or stand-up routines. Instead, just try making yourself laugh for no reason. You’ll soon find that the act of fake laughing makes you laugh for real, and you’re well on your way to feeling calmer and less stressed.
These 7 quick expert tips for calming the nervous system are ideal for when you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or even anxious. The next time you need to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, give one of these techniques a try.