How to Calm Your Nervous System

By Staff 10 Min Read

Gentle exercise, weighted blankets, and increasing your fat intake are just a few ways to give help your nervous system relax.

It doesn’t matter what year it is. Life can be a lot.

From work stressors to family obligations to current events, our nervous system bears the brunt of it all.

On top of that, we’re getting constant messages to be productive, keep up our exercise routine, and stay socially engaged — all while maintaining our meditation practice and feeding the kids probiotics.

Sometimes we just have to say that enough is enough.

We all have a limit, and it’s not difficult to reach it with everything going on in the world. We can’t force ourselves to run on empty without serious consequences, either now or down the line.

The good news is there are small, simple ways to build rest, rejuvenation, and resilience right into our lifestyle.

Our nervous systems need these breaks the same way we need to stay hydrated, visit the bathroom, and get enough sleep every night. They aren’t luxuries. They’re essential.

Below are some top-notch methods for giving your nerves what they need, no matter what’s going on around you.

One of my favorite ways to soothe my system is to add a bit of weight.

Weight provides the brain with proprioceptive input, which can produce a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system. We often get proprioceptive input from normal day to day activities, like carrying a book bag, pushing a lawnmower, or even chewing gum.

Proprioceptive input is also formally used in physical and occupational therapy to treat anything from injuries to autism to cerebral palsy.

There are plenty of ways to give yourself proprioceptive input and help nerves calm down.

Weight training

Simply lifting weights is a straightforward way to get proprioceptive input and get your exercise in at the same time.

One study of Olympic weightlifters showed that lifting could benefit proprioceptive feedback. Another study notes that weightlifting may improve body awareness, or kinesthesia.

To get started lifting weights, you don’t necessarily need a ton of equipment.

You may be able to find what you need around your house or garden shed (think bags of soil). In the absence of weighted objects, you can also use resistance bands.

Another option is to focus on bodyweight exercises and skip equipment altogether.

Of course, always keep safety in mind and talk with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.

Weighted blankets, vests, and pillows

For a more gentle way to use weight to calm your system, you can try any number of weighted accessories.

Weighted blankets are a cozy option for getting deep pressure, which has been suggested to help lower the heart rate in adolescents during molar extraction.

There are plenty of options when it comes to weighted blankets, including blankets for kids.

There’s also some evidence that weighted vests may have a positive effect on attention and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Weighted pillows or pads are another option to add weight to specific areas of the body. You can place them on your shoulders, back, chest, stomach, or wherever your body most needs a bit of pressure.

There are options that can be heated up in the microwave, contain soothing scents, or even come in the form of weighted stuffed animals.

The Moon Pals line of weighted stuffies even have their own comic book series!

Cuddle up to a loved one

In addition to weight training and weighted products, a good old fashioned cuddle with someone you love can also serve the purpose of providing comforting weight.

Cuddling is known to release endorphins and oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” The more time you clock as the “little spoon,” you’re likely to feel a greater sense of calm.

You may have seen dogs shake themselves after a close encounter with a less-than-friendly canine.

According to Dr. Peter Levine in his book “Waking the Tiger,” animals engage in shaking to release trauma from their bodies. Levine is also the developer of somatic experiencing, a body-based therapy for processing and releasing trauma.

Difficult experiences, including trauma, can build up energy in the nervous system. There’s some evidence to suggest that shaking can help release it.

This is also known as therapeutic or neurogenic tremoring. It’s a technique used in tension and trauma therapeutic release exercises, or TRE, which was created by Dr. David Berceli.

Many of us have experienced being soothed by a warm hug or a hot bath.

Hot baths may help reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar. Evidence also suggests that saunas may increase endorphins.

You can cater your bath to your needs and preferences. To make it a full sensory experience and even include some healing herbs, try a bath tea or homemade bubble bath.

One 2018 study suggested that simple heating pads helped reduce anxiety and distress in women undergoing cystoscopy, or the insertion of a camera into the urethra and bladder.

You can find electric plug-in pads or packs that go in the microwave.

Another way to settle the nerves and calm the mind is to try a tracking exercise.

Tracking is another somatic experiencing technique that can help you feel more present and grounded.

This exercise may seem incredibly simple — and it is.

By turning your attention to your external environment, especially the pleasant things around you, you’re sending a signal to your nervous system that all is well.

Seriously. The brain and nervous system love fat.

The nerve cells are wrapped in a protective coating called myelin. Evidence suggests that eating fat can help keep that protective coating healthy by preventing demyelination, or the erosion of the myelin.

Think of eating healthy fats as a way to literally cushion your nervous system.

Healthy fats include those that make up the Mediterranean diet, like avocado, nuts, and fatty fish. Ghee, or clarified butter, is also a great choice for getting healthy fat in your diet.

You can even find medicated ghee with herbs specifically targeting nervous system health or even make your own.

Be sure to consult a qualified herbalist before adding herbs to your health routine.

One highly underrated yet profound practice for giving the nervous system a break is simply to do just that: take a break.

Many of us live busy lives and don’t have a lot of time in our full schedules to just take a break. Even when we do, we often opt to fill the space with our favorite Netflix show, a phone call with a friend, or catching up on our social feeds.

While there’s nothing wrong with these activities, the nervous system truly craves space and silence.

Every activity is a little stimulating. Truly giving our nerves a break means we’re feeding them the minimum amount of stimulation possible and maximizing rest and rejuvenation.

When we consciously choose to give our nervous systems a break, we’re allowing our entire system to recalibrate.

A healthy nervous system can lead to improved immunity, greater resilience, and an increased sense of well-being.

By reducing unnecessary stimuli and increasing the activities above, we can ensure that our nerves stay healthy no matter what’s going on in the world around us.

Crystal Hoshaw is a mother, writer, and longtime yoga practitioner. She has taught in private studios, gyms, and in one-on-one settings in Los Angeles, Thailand, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She shares mindful strategies for self-care through online courses. You can find her on Instagram.

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