When chronic stress knocks your nervous system out of alignment and you’re left in constant stress, not all hope is lost. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, like it’s hard to focus on anything, or your mood is unpredictable and your digestion is upset, then there are some steps you can take to relieve these symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system. In this post we’ll explore some of the top recommendations for how to heal a dysregulated nervous system and address its symptoms. Before we get started, it’s critical that you understand how the Vagus Nerve and heart rate variability (HRV) affect nervous system regulation.
The Vagus Nerve Is Key To Healing A Dysregulated Nervous System
The Vagus Nerve regulates bodily functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion. It is a cranial nerve belonging to the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This means that the Vagus Nerve plays a major role in calming the nervous system. Stimulating or regulating the Vagus Nerve can help to restore balance in the nervous system. This is because a dysregulated nervous system is characterized by the PNS being underactive and the sympathetic nervous system being overactive.
How Do You Know If Your Vagus Nerve Is Working?
You can indirectly check how well your Vagus Nerve is performing by monitoring your heart rate variability. HRV is regarded as a biological marker of stress and is a measurement of how quickly your heart rate responds to changes (1). When you breathe, your heart rate should increase during the inhalation and decrease during the exhalation, but heart rate variability affects how quickly your heart adapts. Higher heart rate variability is linked with better health and lower stress. Alternatively, lower HRV is generally indicative that the body is less effective at adapting to stress.
Normal heart rate variability is different for different age ranges. For example, the younger a person is, the higher their HRV should be – as long as they are healthy. Older adults tend to have lower HRV than they did in their youth. You can easily track your heart rate variability with a smart watch that performs that function.
Tips For Healing A Dysregulated Nervous System
Try out the tips below and monitor your HRV to see what helps you to reduce stress, improve heart rate variability, regulate the Vagus Nerve, and heal a dysregulated nervous system.
1. Control Your Breathing
Breathing rate and heart rate are interdependent. Therefore, slowing your breathing can help to slow your heart rate. A slower heart rate indicates a state of calm, whereas a racing heart is a sign of stress. You can use certain types of breathing techniques to create different effects on your heart.
Resonance breathing is a breathwork practice that has been shown to improve HRV. A study published in Cureus found that practicing resonance breathing for 20 minutes a day over the span of 4 weeks increased parasympathetic nervous system activity and decreased sympathetic nervous system activity (2). This means that it reduced the body’s flight-or-flight stress response and promoted a more balanced state of calm.
How To Practice Resonance Breathing
Resonance breathing is characterized by taking between 3 to 7 deep breaths per minute (3). One of the popular methods of resonance breathing is called “box breathing”. Despite it’s name, this is not a trendier version of breathing into a bag and doesn’t even require a box. It’s referred to as box breathing because each stage of the process is of equal length. Here’s what you do:
- Take a deep breath in for 4 seconds
- Hold that breath for 4 seconds
- Exhale for 4 seconds
- Wait 4 seconds before starting over
In addition to stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, focusing on counting and controlling your breathing can have a powerful effect on calming your mind. You can also experiment with other deep breathing techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or the 4:6 breathing method. To practice 4:6 breathing, breathe in for a count of 4 and then breathe out for a count of 6 (4).
Try to practice resonance breathing for 20 minutes a day but it’s okay if you need to take it slow and build yourself up to the 20 minute routine. The best part about this is that it requires no tools and can be done anywhere at any time to relieve stress.
2. Take Adaptogens
Adaptogens are natural substances, often herbs or mushrooms, that help the body to cope with stress. When our body encounters a stressor, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis triggers the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time, this cortisol release can become dysregulated, leading to chronic stress, which in turn impairs the nervous system’s function.
Adaptogens like ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and ginseng work by reducing cortisol’s production and helping to restore HPA axis function. By doing so, adaptogens can help bring the nervous system back into balance, improving overall mood, sleep, and energy levels. If you constantly feel stressed or like your response to stress is unusual, then adaptogens may be able to help.
If you’re looking for a calming supplement, I recommend Anxietex™. This stress-relieving supplement is formulated to help relieve stress and anxiety. The formula contain adaptogens such as Siberian Ginseng and Bacopa monniera to help the body manage stress. It also contains naturally occurring B vitamins thanks to the inclusion of Wild Oat. B vitamins play vital roles throughout the nervous system and therefore may help to regulate nervous system function. The Magnesium included also helps to calm the nervous system and relieve stress. All together, this just might be the formula to heal a dysregulated nervous system.
Want to learn more about Anxietex™? Read our post titled Anxietex™ Reviews for customer feedback and more details about the ingredients inside each capsule.
3. Sleep More
During non-REM sleep, your parasympathetic nervous system is more active, causing you to enter a relaxed state. When this happens, heart rate and breathing slow down and regulate (5), which as we discussed above in Tip 1, also improves heart rate variability and nervous system regulation. What this means is that getting a proper night’s sleep is a simple way improving your nervous system balance. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night and try to wakeup in a slow, non-stressed manner.
4. Ground Yourself
Going to Mother Earth for a hug might be one of the best remedies for when you feel dysregulated. Physically touching the Earth in order to experience its effects on physiological functions is called “Grounding” or “Earthing”. Touching the Earth connects you to its electrical charge and allows for electrons to transfer into you and fight free radicals. Earthing benefits many organ systems throughout the body, including the nervous system (6). Reconnecting with the Earth has been found to reduce stress and inflammation as well as improve circulation, enhance sleep, and boost energy (7). Whether your nervous system is regulated or dysregulated, getting in touch with nature is a great way to boost your well-being.
5. Change How You Think
Mental stress influences physical stress. This means worrying, thinking negatively, and perceiving things as stressors or threats, causes your sympathetic nervous system to activate the fight-or-flight response (8). When we think positively and reduce mental stress, we feel happier and more relaxed which can help to heal a dysregulated nervous system.
Try reframing your thoughts to put a positive spin on them. For example, instead of being upset and stressed out because you overslept and you’re late for work, reframe your thoughts so that you take a moment to appreciate that you gave your body the sleep that it needed. If reprogramming your thoughts on your own is proving too challenging, ask your loved ones to help or visit a therapist who can give you the tools to better manage your thoughts and get control of your stress.
Therapy can also be an effective way or overcoming trauma. This can be an important step in healing a dysregulated nervous system because trauma disrupts the body’s ability to regulate itself, leaving a person in either an overstimulated or depressive state. Clinical therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), can address the underlying emotional and psychological causes of trauma, and thereby reduce stress (9).
6. Get A Massage
Getting a massage feels relaxing and there’s science to back up the claim that it reduces stress. A study published in the Yonsei Medical Journey demonstrated that a combination of heat and massage relaxed the autonomic nervous system, which is the system made up of the excitatory sympathetic nervous system and calming PNS (10). Yes, you could take this news as a justification to go get a massage. Alternatively, you can also train yourself to perform different types of massages that stimulate the Vagus Nerve and relieve anxiety.
7. Embrace The Cold
From taking the polar plunge to practicing the Wim Hof Method, cold immersion has been gaining popularity – and for good reason. Various studies have been done on the effects of cold immersion and exposure, demonstrating that embracing the cold can have numerous health benefits (11). Immersion in cold water is believed to stimulate the Vagus Nerve and thus reduce stress (12). Cold exposure to the sides of the neck and cheeks can raise heart rate variability and decrease heart rate (13).
One of the best ways to incorporate cold exposure into your life is to practice the Wim Hof Method. This physical training combines breathwork, cold therapy, and mental determination (14). Various studies have been done on this method, including a 2011 study performed by Radboud University which demonstrated that Wim Hof (for whom the method is named) could use his method to voluntarily influence his autonomic nervous system. A 2022 study found that the effects of both Wim Hof breathing and cold exposure decrease perceived stress (15).
A dysregulated nervous system is one that is in a constant state of stress. Therefore, to heal a dysregulated nervous system, you need to relieve stress and anxiety. There are many ways that you can relieve stress such as taking deep breaths, getting in touch with nature, sleeping, supplementing, using massage therapy, changing how you think, and braving the cold. You can try any or all of the tips listed above. Make sure to monitor how they affect you by checking if your heart rate variability increases, because HRV is an indirect measure of how the Vagus Nerve is working within the nervous system. That being said, this blog post serves to provide information and inspire healthier living; if you have a health concern, you should speak to a qualified medical advisor.