Feeling stressed? Like you’re in a constant state of fight-or-flight? It may be time to show your nervous system some love! Responsible for controlling our thoughts, movements, sensations, and vital organ functions, our nervous system is one of the most important systems in the body. It’s vital for stress management, mental health, and immune function. Plus, it helps regulate various functions (such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing) to keep our body balanced and in a state of homeostasis.
But, our nervous system can be easily taxed by stress and other lifestyle factors. When we experience stress (whether it be mental, environmental, or physical), our nervous system responds by releasing hormones — namely adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol — that help prepare our body to take action. However, if these stressors become chronic (as is the case for a majority of Americans), it can have a negative impact on our nervous system and overall health.
You may experience symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and irritability. You may even experience weight gain, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, and increased risk for chronic disease. But, there’s good news! By taking steps to regulate your nervous system with simple techniques like deep breathing, exercise, and mindfulness, you can help reduce the impact of stress and promote a greater sense of calm and relaxation. Reduced stress aside, this can lead to numerous physical and mental health benefits, such as improved sleep, better immune function, and reduced risk of chronic health issues (such as heart disease and depression). In other words, keeping your nervous system healthy is essential for managing stress and maintaining good health! And, you only need a few minutes.
Ahead, how to reset your nervous system with simple hacks that take 10 minutes (or less!).
8 Hacks to Support a Healthy Nervous System
#1: 5-Minutes of Cyclical Sigh Breathing
Cyclical sigh breathing is a simple science-backed technique that can be done in just 5 minutes to help reset the nervous system and promote relaxation.
It’s been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, reduce muscle tension, clear the mind, and improve mental clarity. And it’s as simple as deep breathing with an audible sigh.
Here’s how to do it:
Step #1: Find a comfortable seated or lying position and take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
Step #2: Start by taking two short inhales through the nose (for a count of four), and one long exhale through the mouth (for a count of eight). Your breathing should be in a 1:2 ratio, with your exhale twice as long as your inhale.
Step #3: Continue this cycle for 5 minutes, focusing on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body.
Deep sighs help to release tension and promote relaxation, while deep breathing helps to calm the nervous system and increase oxygenation to the body!
#2: Nourish Your Brain Through Your Gut
If you’ve heard about the importance of gut health for brain health, you’ve heard right. Connected by the vagus nerve, the largest cranial nerve in the body, there’s a direct ‘two-way highway’ that allows for bidirectional communication between our gut and brain. This connection has been shown to play an important role in many aspects of health, particularly in mood, stress, and immune function. In fact, many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain (such as serotonin and dopamine), are also present in the gut. And to no surprise, these neurotransmitters are involved in regulating mood and mental health.
Research has shown that nourishing our gut microbiome can help regulate nervous system function. For example, certain strains of gut bacteria (such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two common types of probiotics) have been shown to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is involved in regulating mood and cognitive function.
Given this connection, by simply nourishing our gut, we can nourish our nervous system! Here are some gut-healthy foods to focus on:
- Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi
- Prebiotic foods such as asparagus, bananas, and apples
- Colorful fruits and veggies, rich in fiber and antioxidants
By simply whipping up a berry-filled smoothie or meal-prepping a batch of overnight oats, you can enjoy these gut-healthy nutrients with little time or effort!
RELATED: The 5 Healthiest Probiotic-Rich Foods For Gut Health According to an RD
#3: 4-6-4 Breathing Technique
The 4-6-4 breathing technique is a simple breathing exercise that has been shown to regulate the nervous system and promote feelings of calm. In fact, by activating the vagus nerve, it’s been shown to have a direct impact on your parasympathetic nervous system.
Here’s how to perform this technique:
Step #1: Find a comfortable seated or lying position and take a few deep breaths to settle into your body.
Step #2: Inhale deeply for a count of 4, filling your lungs with air and expanding your belly.
Step #3: Hold your breath for a count of 6, allowing the oxygen to circulate throughout your body.
Step #4: Exhale slowly for a count of 4, releasing all of the air from your lungs and contracting your belly.
Step #5: Repeat this cycle of breathing for several minutes, focusing on the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body.
Skeptical? Trust us and try it! Humming is a simple yet effective technique that can benefit the nervous system. When we hum, we create a vibration in the body that can help to promote relaxation and reduce tension. This is because the vibration from humming can stimulate the vagus nerve, which, as we’ve discussed, is a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system!
Additionally, one study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that humming for just five minutes can increase the production of nitric oxide in the nasal passages. Naturally produced by the body, nitric oxide is a molecule that has been shown to support the nervous system by promoting blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and regulating neurotransmitter function.
#5 Yoga Nidra
Also known as “yogic sleep,” Yoga Nidra is a form of guided meditation with science-backed benefits for the nervous system. It’s been shown to reduce stress and anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, improve sleep, and even boost cognitive function and mental clarity.
And to get the benefits, all you have to do is sit back and relax! To get started, press play on this Sweet Dreams Yoga Nidra meditation.
Up for some longer sessions? Try this 20-minute Sleep Yoga Nidra or 17-minute Restful Yoga Nidra.
#6 Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Short on time and feeling tense or tight? Try progressive muscle relaxation. Known to reduce stress, support sleep, lower blood pressure, and promote mindfulness, it’s an effective tool that can be performed anytime, anywhere.
Here’s how to do it: Simply tense and relax each muscle group in your body, starting at your feet and working your way up to your head. This simple technique is an easy way to help to release physical tension and promote relaxation!
#7 Visualization Meditation
If you struggle with traditional meditation practices that involve quieting your mind, Visualization Meditation may be the perfect nervous system reset for you! While still calming to the nervous system, visualization is a more active approach. It involves creating a mental image or scenario in your mind, with the goal of focusing and engaging all your senses to create a vivid and realistic experience.
It’s been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, boost motivation and confidence, stimulate the brain, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.
For a guided approach, this 5-minute Visualize Joy meditation with Vytas or Sleep Visualization guided by DeAndre Sinette.
And, of course, you can roll out your mat and let your mind guide the experience!
#8 Mindful Movement
Shown to reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, improve mood, and reduce the risk for chronic disease, even a few minutes of exercise can be beneficial for regulating the nervous system! When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, natural mood boosters that can help to counteract the effects of stress and anxiety. Plus, exercise can help regulate breathing and heart rate, which to no surprise, can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
Whether it’s a short-duration HIIT workout, rolling out your mat for a juicy yoga flow, or repping out some body-weight exercises (like push-ups and squats), find what works best for you!
With a little know-how, resetting your nervous system is easier than you think. Breathing exercises such as cyclical sigh breathing, 4-6-4 breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are highly effective and can be done in just a few minutes. Yoga Nidra and visualization meditation can help to calm your mind and reduce stress levels. And don’t forget about movement — even if brief, it’s an essential factor in regulating the nervous system! Though simple, these hacks are powerful, and can be easily incorporated into your daily routine (no matter how busy it may be!).