It’s no secret that anxiety and depression are prevalent in our society.
If either one or both of these (often times anxiety can accompany depression and vice versa), ails you or a loved one, read on to learn some simple tips on how to help reset nervous system activity that may be a contributing factor.
Before we go on, please know that there’s a lot behind anxiety and depression, and it’s not a once size fits all kind of approach to healing. We all have our own unique experiences and mental/emotional/physiological backgrounds that can have varying effects on how anxiety and/or depression can manifest.
This being said, over the course of the next few months, I’ll be exploring with you, in greater depth, information on each of these; including info on different types of depression and anxiety, how they can manifest in the body, and some suggestions (from a bodyworker’s perspective) on how to help your nervous system rewire your body/mind for healing.
Before I continue on, I want to remind you that the information and suggestions covered are to help with the body-based effects of anxiety and depression only. If you or a loved one are in need of exploring the mental/emotional effects of anxiety and depression; it’s imperative to seek help from a trusted psychotherapist, somatic therapist, counselor or the like to support you on your healing journey. If you don’t know where to turn to, you’re welcome to reach out, and I can refer you to a trusted practitioner.
So just for today, I’d like to share the very basics of how life challenges can affect our bodies, including our nervous systems, and some simple tips on how to reset the nervous system to bring some body-based relief.
When we experience challenges in life, such as trauma, unexpected circumstances, stressful situations, or the like; our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) (i.e.fight, flight and freeze) gets activated. When we’re in fight, flight and freeze mode; some immediate responses in the body can include the psoas muscle immediately contracting, breathing can become more shallow and rapid, heart rate increases, overall senses heighten, to name a few.
These biological responses can be a good thing as they can help us get ready to fight, flee the stressful situation (flight), or ‘play dead’ (freeze) until the danger has warded off.
Where we can get into trouble is when there’s no discharge of this sympathetic nervous system energy, and we remain in the fight, flight, freeze response.
Any nervous system that’s in a prolonged state of fight, flight and freeze can experience increased tension in the body/mind, exhaustion, trouble focusing, fatigue, outright pain in the body, and yes, can be a contributing factor to increased feeling of anxiety and depression.
So from a purely physiological perspective, it’s ideal to discharge the energy of fight, flight and freeze; so the nervous system can transition into parasympathetic mode (i.e. rest and digest).
When the nervous system is in a parasympathetic state, the body’s natural processes flow with greater ease. For example, breathing deepens, the visceral organs can function with greater ease and efficiency, a decrease in tension patterns, general feelings aliveness and wellbeing can ensue.
As stated above, it’s important to speak with a trusted therapist when the symptoms of anxiety and depression go beyond just physiological symptoms; the following are some ways to help your nervous system get out of fight, flight and freeze, and settle into rest and digest mode:
- Splashing Cold Water On Your Face 3x
There’s an increase in research on the benefits of cold exposure. In short, exposure to cold can reduce the fight, flight, freeze response and activate the rest and digest response via the vagus nerve (more information on the vagus nerve in next month’s newsletter). For more information on cold exposure, check out Wim Hof’s site HERE.
- Box Breathing
Box breathing is a simple breath work technique that helps our breath return to a more natural rhythm, decreases stress and promotes relaxation in the process. You do this by breathing in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts and hold the exhale for 4 counts. Repeat from the beginning breath in for 4 rounds. If you have trouble with the 4 count breath, try starting off with 2 counts instead. For more information on box breathing, check out this article from The Cleveland Clinic.
Working with essential oils can connect the olfactory system (i.e. the system that governs our sense of smell) to the limbic system that is a part of the brain that houses memories and emotions. Utilizing essential oils can temporarily increase endorphins and the production of serotonin levels which can lead to a decrease the stress response while promoting a greater sense of relaxation. I would suggest one (or a combination of) the following essential oils as a starting point: Lavender, Chamomile, Wild Orange, Ylang Ylang or Neroli.
Exercise increases endorphins in the brain that are also known as the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and can increase an overall sense of well-being. I suggest choosing a form of exercise that’s appealing and fun for you. For example, don’t force yourself to go for a run if you don’t enjoy it on some level, choose something that you prefer to do like going for a walk, dancing, swimming or the like. If you don’t enjoy the latter suggestions I just posed but love to run…then go for a run!
Humming (even quietly humming to yourself) can massage the part of the vagus nerve that lies near the throat center and vocal cords. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, it can signal to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) feelings of safety and ease, and our stress response can decrease in the process.
- Bodywork & Massage
Like that of exercise, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork can increase the feel-good endorphins in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, and can lead to a decrease in cortisol levels, an increase in overall relaxation, a lowered heart rate and an overall sense of well-being. For more information, check out this Psychology Today article.
- Additional Suggestions
I’ve detailed just a few body-centered suggestions that may help decrease anxiety and depression. Some additional suggestions that I’ll go into more detail about at a later date are meditation, yoga and spending time in nature.
As I shared earlier on, there may be more than meets the physiological eye (so to speak) when it comes to any symptoms of anxiety or depression that you or a loved one may be experiencing.
As stated before, it’s important to talk with a trusted and trained psychotherapist, and even connecting with your doctor to check your nutrition levels can be a game changer as well. Nutrition levels do play an important part on how we feel on a daily basis.
In the event you would like to be connected with any trusted doctors, psychotherapists and/or nutritionists, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to connect you to a practitioner that could be a good fit.
In the meantime, please remember that healing (of any kind) is a process. So be patient with yourself and/or with your loved one as you navigate through your (or their) way to feeling better.