Are you having trouble relaxing? You want to settle down, but your body really isn’t cooperating. Is it all in your head? Not really. A lot of it is your nervous system.
What is the parasympathetic nervous system?
The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) is one half of the autonomic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is the other half, and it’s activated when we’re in a “fight, flight, or freeze” state. You know, our default state when we’re trying to get everything in our day done. Yet this can also be a beneficial state to be in when we’re under pressure, as it motivates us to keep moving.
The PSNS, on the other hand, is our “rest and digest” state. When our PSNS is dominant, our breath and heartbeat slow down. Our muscles recover, blood circulates to the organs, and essential hormones are produced. It’s a state of deep, natural healing.
The key thing to understand about the autonomic system these two halves make up is that it all works without our attention. This system is the reason we breathe without thinking.
However, we can consciously choose activities and ways of being that ramp up whichever side we prefer to be dominant on at that time. For instance, if you were an athlete, you might want your sympathetic system to be dominant.
But if you’re anything like us, you understand that relaxation and healing are every bit as important. In addition to meditation, here are three more effective ways to support your PSNS, which can lead to simpler activation over time.
What’s the most stressful time of day for you? Life is cyclical, and that includes the short span of one day. At these times, avoid sugar and caffeine. You may also begin incorporating more minerals into your diet and be more mindful of your macros.
Settling down doesn’t mean you can’t move. Yin and hatha yoga are perfect for activating PSNS, as it encourages the slower breathing associated with a restful state. If you can control your breath, you have great influence over your nervous system.
Play a singing bowl.
Almost all forms of sound therapy, from white noise to binaural beats, can help turn up the PSNS. Our favorite, of course, is the song of a singing bowl. Research has indicated that singing bowls, in particular, help us hack a frenzied nervous system and find calm.
TIP: Do relaxing activities with a partner.
From reading a book to playing a singing bowl, it can be easier to activate the PSNS when a loved one is in your proximity. Those calm, satisfying moments when you can just be, without having to talk or collaborate? Your parasympathetic nervous system loves that.
And if you tend to be a bit of a loner, this is still a great tip. It may help those with social anxiety learn to truly relax in the presence of others.
Do you know of more ways to cool down after periods of intense stress? How long does it take you to achieve a relaxed state? Share below!