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  • Meredith

Nervous System Healing Practices for Calm

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Perhaps you recognise the bodily sensations you experience when you have to have a difficult conversation, when you're stuck in traffic and need to be at an important meeting or when you hear bad news. When our emotions are triggered, we can feel our nervous systems activated. This fight-flight response is the body’s ancient, intelligent and very normal response to a threat in the environment. It allows us to immediately become vigilant and ready to fight or flee, sending blood away from our non-vital organs to our muscles and increasing our breathing and heart rate. Although we are no longer dealing with threats like being chased by a wild animal, our reptilian brain (the oldest part of our brain) cannot distinguish between real threats and ones that we may make bigger in our minds (being late to a meeting, a looming work deadline, a delayed train on the way to the airport). Animals have a very adaptive response post-chase of shaking to regulate their system and returning quickly to a state of calm which we, as humans, tend not to do. Unfortunately the accumulation of this anxious energy with nowhere to go and without release, can lead to powerful, often-distressing feelings that can affect many systems of the body and can cause racing, worried thoughts.

it is very helpful to know ways to help bring our systems back into a state of regulation so that we can rest, think clearly and get a good night's sleep. Below I offer some of the practices that help me when I am overwhelmed, stressed, nervous or anxious.

I have separated them into two lists: bottom up processes that work mainly from the body, and top-down processes that can utilise and engage the power of the mind.

Bottom-up processes for calm

  • Exercise

  • Movement, especially yoga as it works with the breath in the body

  • Sufficient sleep & rest

  • A healthy diet

  • Barefoot walking/ dancing/ movement, especially on grass

  • Laying down on the grass looking up at the sky or eyes closed

  • Sound baths

  • Forest bathing

  • Kirtan chanting

  • African drumming/ drum circle

  • Singing, particularly in a choir (even an online one!)

  • Warrior posture

  • Hugging trees (for at least 5 minutes!)

  • Walks in nature

  • Stroking a pet

  • Being around animals

  • Self hug

  • Hot/ warm bath

  • Conscious breathing (e.g. box breath, longer exhales, alternate nostril breathing, breath of fire)

  • Humming

  • Orienting to the environment (connecting to the ground, looking around, noticing breath)

  • Body scanning

Top-down processes for calm

  • Journaling

  • Reading books about other people experiencing similar things

  • Making art (drawing, painting, writing)

  • Listening to calming music

  • Reading poetry

  • Meditation

  • Talk therapy (counselling/ psychotherapy)

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