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How does my Nervous System affect my Mental Health?

Our nervous system influences what we think and how we connect to those around us. A flexible and resilient nervous system is able to recover from stress well, and gives us emotional, physical and mental health.

Nervous system dysregulation is when we get stuck in over-stimulation or 'fight or flight'. It can cause symptoms such as high emotional reactivity, intrusive thoughts, chronic depression and anxiety, and emotional shutdown. We can read and react more negatively to people, and this influences how much we can deeply connect with others.

I feel like my overly stressful life sadly is an example of the norm for most of us, and I cannot stress how much exercising and investing in my nervous system has helped me cope and stay feeling well. For me, it began with yoga, but now I see that as just one tool to train the nervous system.

I think also, if you're like me, we tend to put practices like this off, as it has little instant gratification, and we leave it until we reach crisis point and can no longer put up with the symptoms! This is further consolidated with society telling us productivity is important, and how much we can do and cope with perfectly adds up to how much we're worth. We're likely to tell ourselves 'we're too busy'.

Ways to can train our nervous system to be flexible, resilient and return to balance:

1. Ensure we have adequate vitamin B levels

B vitamins and folate are vital for a functioning nervous system; you can largely find them in animal products. These vitamins also help our bodies produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.

A further supplement to help that I enjoy using (this isn't a recommendation, just my personal preference!) is ashwagandha, and the root of the plant is most commonly used. (a brilliant place to stay up to date with nutrition research) describes ashwgandha as follows:

"Ashwagandha has been called the king of Ayurvedic herbs. Limited research suggests that it works well for reducing stress and anxiety. It may also modestly enhance strength performance, improve glucose metabolism, and increase testosterone levels, but more research is needed to confirm this."

One way to use ashwagandha is in moon milk. Just mix/whisk these ingredients together as you warm the milk. This makes one cup:

  • milk of choice

  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric

  • 1/4 tsp ashwagandha

  • 1/4 tsp (ceylon) cinnamon

  • 1/4 tsp dried ginger

  • 1 tsp honey

2. Cold exposure

Cycles of heat and cold are emerging as very beneficial to us, in our immune response, inflammation, sleep quality and improved focus. The idea is to put our nervous system under a controlled amount of stress & discomfort, allowing it to adapt and more more resilient, the same way in which your muscles do after a workout.

Made popular as part of the Wim Hof method, there also some simple ways to can practice at home. At the end of your shower, simply turn it to cold for 10 seconds, and then gradually increase the time. I do struggle with this one! I do not feel brave enough!! Maybe we need to do a challenge together to be able to get going with this one more!?

3. Breath work

I believe our breath has the power to change our life, and when some of my clients have chosen to work on it, they did in fact agree I was not exaggerating! In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about ways to improve our breathing here. Breathing through our noses as the norm is great for our health, but engaging in specific short breathing practices, where we over-breathe or hold our breaths, consistently helps the quality of our breath to improve overall.

4. Meditation

I wrote recently that if I could pass a law that everyone in the world had to follow, a consistent daily meditation practice is what I would choose for everyone! Although I have been practicing meditation consistently for 3 years, I do still feel like I'm at the beginning of my journey still with it. So many things in the wellness area seem to come back to meditation!

There are so many myths surrounding meditation, and if you'd like to know more about meditation, what it is and what it is not, then you can read more in this blog post, or download my free meditation e-bundle here.

5. Yoga

Yoga combines movement and breathing, and specifically yin and restorative yoga can be especially helpful for training the nervous system to come back to a state of balance. I found yin yoga, where you hold stretches for 3-10 minutes, incredibly uncomfortable for the first 2 years of my practice. My mind REBELS. But, you bring the same principles of meditation to it; you focus on your breath and every time you notice your mind wanders, you choose to come back to the moment and your sensations of breath.

6. Learning a new skill

Whether that's playing the piano, baking, rock-climbing or the latest tik-tok dance, doing something new is amazing for your brain. It allows new pathways to be forged, literally changing to way that your brain works.

When was the last time you tried learning something new?

All of us can commit to creating the foundation for a healthy nervous system, without spending hours of each day. What sparked here for you? What was most helpful?

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