Your nervous system guides everything you do, think, say or feel. It controls complicated processes like movement, thought and memory. It plays an essential role in the things your body does without thinking, such as breathing, blushing and blinking.
Your nervous system affects every aspect of your health. This complex system is the command center for your body. It regulates your body’s systems and allows you to experience your environment. It’s almost like an enormous information highway running throughout your body.
Your nervous system uses specialized cells called neurons to send signals or messages all over your body. These electrical signals travel between your brain, skin, organs, glands and muscles. Motor neurons tell your muscles to move. Sensory neurons take information from your senses and send signals to your brain. Other types of neurons control the things your body does automatically, like breathing, shivering, having a regular heartbeat and digesting food.
Thousands of disorders and conditions can affect your nerves. An injured nerve has trouble sending messages and sometimes can be so damaged that it cannot send or receive a message at all. Some of the most common causes of nerve damage include: Disease (many infections, cancers and autoimmune diseases like diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis); stroke (when one of the brain’s blood vessels becomes blocked or suddenly bursts); accidental injury (nerves can be crushed, stretched or cut in an accident); pressure (pinched or compressed nerves can’t get enough blood to its job); toxic substances (chemotherapy, medicines, illegal drugs, excessive alcohol and poisonous substances); and the aging process (neurons don’t travel as fast as you get older).
We can see the impact nervous system conditions like these have on our overall health. Injuries to the spinal cord have also shown to have a broad impact on our overall health. Normally, messages are sent from the brain through the spinal cord to parts of the body, which leads to movement. When the spinal cord is damaged, the message from the brain cannot get through.
Other areas of concern are breathing, neurogenic shock (low heart rate and low blood pressure), altered temperature regulation, autonomic hyperreflexia (also known as autonomic dysreflexia or hyper dysreflexia), deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot in the legs and arms), stomach ileus, swallowing, bladder control, skin, muscles and tendons and bones and joints.
From work stressors to family obligations to current events, our nervous system bears the brunt of it all. 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. There are small, simple ways to build rest, rejuvenation and resilience right into our lifestyle.
Our nervous system needs these breaks the same way we need to stay hydrated, visit the bathroom and get enough sleep every night. These are essential. The following are some top-notch methods for giving your nerves what they need, no matter what’s going on around you.
Weight it down: Weight provides the brain with proprioceptive input, which can produce a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system. You can get this from normal day to day activities like carrying a book bag, pushing a lawnmower or even chewing gum. The goal is to do it in a healthy manner.
Weight training: You don’t need a ton of equipment. You may be able to find what you need around your house or garden shed. In the absence of weighted objects, you can also use resistance bands. You can also focus on bodyweight exercises.
Weighted blankets, vests and pillows: You can add weight to specific areas of the body by placing them on your shoulders, back, chest, stomach or wherever your body most needs a bit of pressure.
Cuddle up to a loved one: Cuddling releases feel-good hormones. Touching in any way can strengthen your bond and relieve stress.
Shake it off: 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.
Heat it up: A hot bath can reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar, and saunas can increase endorphins. Heating pads can help reduce anxiety.
Try a tracking exercise: Sit comfortably and take a few breaths to relax. Begin to slowly look around the room and allow your gaze to land on various objects. Name the object out loud. If you find an object that particularly appeals to you, linger on it for a while. Repeat until you feel calm and ready to stop. This exercise is simple and sends a signal to your nervous system that all is well.
Feed yourself fat: The brain and nervous system love fat. Eat healthy fats that include those that make up the Mediterranean diet, avocados, nuts, fatty fish, ghee and clarified butter.
Make space for space: Many of us live busy lives, so simply taking a break is helpful. Try lower stimulating activities like sitting meditation, walking meditation, body scan, yoga nidra, forest bathing, float therapy, doodling, crafting, listening to music and gardening.
Turn down the volume: When we consciously choose to give our nervous system 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.