3 Tips For Staying Calm and Grounded
How To Make Friends With Your Parasympathetic Nervous System
It seems like people are more stressed and anxious than ever before, so with this newsletter I wanted to share 3 interconnected tips for calming the parasympathetic nervous system. This the system our body uses to relax, and we have bamboozled and confused it with a lot of our modern habits—the result is we can get stuck in “fight or flight” syndrome, our bodies flooded with unnecessary stress hormones. The solution is to learn how make friends with your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is the part of your body that allows you to be relaxed, calm, and grounded. Here are three simple ways to activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System.
1. Better Sleep
The secret to better sleep is building a bedtime ritual and sticking to it consistently. Even adults need bedtimes! Just as parents don’t let their kids go to bed whenever they want, instead they set up healthy routines, we also need to do that for ourselves as adults. Here are some rules for setting up a healthy bedtime. The time you choose is up to you. Pick an hour and say, “this is when I start my bedtime ritual.” The specifics of what ritual can vary, but here are some good basics:
Tips on how to get better sleep
· Try to stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Set a specific time when you get ready or bed. Make it a relaxing ritual you enjoy,
· Avoid screens for an hour before bed. Set a screen curfew.
· Relaxing like stretching, yoga, breathwork (more on that in a second) and reading will help you get into a sleepy state of mind.
Here is where it ties into lowered stress—sleep actually is composed of different phases we cycle through, during the night. One of the most important, and most mysterious phases is REM sleep, when dreams occur—dreaming has been compared to overnight therapy. Ever had an upsetting experience, gone to bed and woke up feeling much better? Scientists say that REM sleep takes off the rough edges of the day. REM also makes us better learners. Doctor Walker, a sleep scientist at the University of Berkely says “We wake up with a revised mind-wide web of associations”
2. Breath Better
Experts say most of us are breathing wrong — breathing too rapidly and too shallowly. Over the last few decades, research has started to confirm what ancient cultures around the world have long believed: Breathwork, the practice of improving your breathing through simple exercises, can improve health and well-being. Consciously slowing your breathing is good for your heart, reduces stress, and elevates your mood. Breathing rapidly activates the body’s nervous system. Breathing slowly, calms it. It’s that simple. Breathing slowly lets you the parasympathetic nervous system take over and relax you.
There are a lot of different breathing exercises that you can learn, including some based on yoga, Zen meditation, but one of the easiest ones to learn is called Box Breathing—it’s actually used by the Navy Seals! The way it works is you spend a few minutes breathing on a 4 count, like this: inhale for 4, hold your breath for 4, exhale for four, and hold at the exhale for 4. What it does, is it forces you to breathe slowly and evenly. I used this method the other day while I was at the dentist for example, and it got me through a not very fun procedure with a minimum of stress.
(I plan to explore and explain all the other different breathwork methods in future newsletters, so now is a good time to subscribe if you are interested in learning more about those!)
3. A Better Relationship to your phone
I honestly think that someday in the not too far future we are going to look back on the way that we are all constantly are exposing ourselves to screens and our phones nonstop, in the same way that it now feels slightly shocking to watch old movies and tv shows from the 1950s and realize “OMG everyone was smoking all the time!”
Until that more enlightened time, here is a simple trick you can try to loosen your phones’ grip on your attention. Pick a day and leave your phone in your sock drawer or on top of the fridge, someplace a bit out of reach. The idea is you can still use it when you need to, make a phone call, or look something up, but you are putting distance between you and the phone so it’s not right in your pocket. I recommend that people get into the habit of trying this once a week. Go untethered from the phone, and it helps reset our relationship to phones!
These tips are meant to work together and reinforce each other. By building a healthy relationship to your screen time, your bedtime, and your breathing you are enabling your parasympathetic nervous system to do its work of keeping you calm and grounded.
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