Anxiety: how to retune your nervous system

One of the things I’m most frequently asked about is how to reduce generalised anxiety.

With the current situation continuing to unfold, we all need to look after ourselves and make sure we are not projecting our fears onto our children too.

Here is a brief explanation of how our nervous system works, and how it relates to anxiety:

In order for us not to be in a constant fight/flight/freeze cycle, we must activate our parasympathetic nervous system – or our social engagement system. In this state, we feel calm, able to think clearly, able to communicate clearly, able to listen clearly and able to see clearly. We do not falsely detect threat and are consequently far more engaging to others.

Here are a few simple things you can try, almost anywhere, which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you to feel calmer:

  • Music – Find a recording of Mozart’s K448 – Sonata for two pianos and stop everything else. Sit in a chair and listen. This piece of music has been proven to reduce stress – and even the occurrence of seizures in kids with epilepsy!
  • Breathing – Try slowly breathing in through the nose to the count of 4, and out through the mouth to 8. Breathe from your belly rather than ribs!
  • Gargling – Try very vigorous gargling – to the point where tears start to form in your eyes. When you start getting tears, it means your vagus nerve is firing. Try and keep it up for a few seconds and then relax
  • Hum – this activates laryngeal muscles, which get signals directly from the superior and recurrent laryngeal branches of the vagus nerve. If done for long enough, this allows us to control our breath, slow down thoughts and enter deep relaxation
  • Chant – chanting “om” stimulates vagus activity to the digestive tract, and is said to improve digestion and inflammation levels in the body. Chanting “om” following stressful events is an excellent way to reduce stress levels
  • Laugh – laughter is extremely effective in improving mood and heart rate variability. This is because we use our diaphragms when we laugh – unless we are laughing nervously, in which laughter is shallow and comes from the ribs. Belly laughs are an easy vagus nerve workout! Personally, I have a couple of video clips that keep up my sleeve, which I can’t watch without crying with laughter.
  • Socialising – socialising and connecting with others is SO important. Being solitary, lonely and disconnected from others severely affects our mood and health. Being around others helps us laugh more, which, as we’ve just established, helps us keep our vagus nerve regulated… Obviously, this is rather difficult under the current circumstances, which is why Zoom is quite helpful to allow us to stay connected with others.
  • Yoga and Meditation – PROVEN to tone the vagus nerve and reduce stress. I was even discussing this with a respiratory doctor a few weeks ago. It is only your logical left brain telling you it doesn’t work!

All the above are excellent things to do WHILE doing or BEFORE the Safe and Sound Protocol, by the way. The SSP is a five day listening intervention designed to re-tune the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system and consequently has a calming effect on all the systems in your body.

If you want to dig a bit deeper and help reduce your anxiety permanently, you are welcome to contact me.

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