Our bodies are naturally dynamic. The systems that control our metabolism, hormones, digestion and more are always involved with a give and take to ensure balance. The primary drivers of this balance are the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system. Simply put, the parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” system and the sympathetic nervous system is the “flight or flight.”
When we experience prolonged stress our bodies stay engaged with the sympathetic nervous system creating an imbalance. This may manifest in a variety of ways including muscle tension, panic attacks, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress, depression, and more.
The good news is that it can be easy to shift the balance back with some exercises designed to promote the parasympathetic nervous system. Increasing your parasympathetic nervous system tone can reduce your stress and help your body recover from stress. There are several techniques to help restore a healthy balance and increase your health.
Incorporating one or more of these techniques can start providing health benefits in a relatively short amount of time. Ending your shower with 30 seconds of cold water or splashing cold water on your face on a regular basis can increase your vagus nerve tone which decreases your “fight or flight” response to stress. Deep breathing exercises using your diaphragm can also stimulate the vagus nerve and improve anxiety, decrease pain, and promote better health. One basic exercise is the 4-7-8, inhale over 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale over 8 seconds. Repeat a few times.
Prolonged stress can also deplete needed nutrients from your body and change your gut environment. Scheduling an appointment with a naturopathic physician can help determine what specific nutrients you may need in addition to the techniques mentioned to improve your balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.