Calm Your Nervous System
After years of stress, we need peace.
Healing comes in many forms, in many shapes, and in many styles.
However, one thing that is universal about healing is relaxation:
Although toughness is required to face challenges, healing is not just a matter of striving, force, or pure willpower. We can’t only be a bull in a china shop and ram healing down our own throat.
In fact, too much force and exertion can impede health: by depleting our energy reserves, and making us rigid — resistant to new concepts that might be helpful.
Instead, we find that acceptance, release, going with the stream rather than against it, harmony — these are the energies of healing and longevity.
Pain and trauma can cause the body and mind to retreat into a survival mode where it feels necessary to resist an unsafe world. This is completely normal and entirely reasonable.
On the other hand, the more we close off to the world and to ourselves, the further we retreat from finding true restoration and healing.
But there’s good news: We can trust the body to heal us.
When we let the body do what it knows to do — rather than what the distracting mind craves — we see that the body possesses remarkable power to self-correct and heal from even the most difficult experiences.
Chronic stress — of any sort — informs the nervous system that you’re not safe.
Stress means the body is lacking what it needs: nutrients, hydration, sleep, detoxification, or energy. Even deficient emotional support qualifies as stress.
Anytime you’re unsafe, undernourished, or underslept, or unsupported your stress hormones rise.
What science has known for some time, but is only now becoming extremely clear, is just how draining it can be when stress hormones are always high.
After all, stress hormones are only supposed to rise for a short time — long enough for you to run away from a threat. The stressor passes, and you return to normal almost immediately.
But when stress hormones remain elevated, they burn through nutritional and energetic stores rapidly, depleting you of your vital energy.
A Chronic Fight-or-Flight Response Means…
When stuck in a stressful state for long periods, your body becomes adapted to “living on” stress hormones.
In fact, gut health and the metabolism shift — at first to increase uptake of glucose for energy — but then, to struggle to burn glucose, and instead running on fat.
As gut health worsens, the body loses its ability to absorb nutrition and energy from food — depleting energy reserves further.
Over time, digestive issues and nutritional imbalances keep the body in a state of depletion — one that needs addressing to correct.
In this state, even the tiniest of triggers can start a massive stress response.
A hallmark sign of an overstressed nervous system is the inability to calm the body, be still, and relax.
It’s often accompanied by a paradoxical fatigue: we’re at once too exhausted, yet too wired to rest.
Chronic Stress Hormones are Caused By…
Stress hormones serve a purpose in the body — namely, to provide energy by raising blood sugar.
And energy is needed to fend off an acute threat.
At first glance, modern life may appear more comfortable than running from predators in the wild, but this may not be entirely accurate.
Modern life is busy — filled with conversations, deadlines, projects, schoolwork. We have authority figures — teachers, bosses — with high expectations. Traffic can be a soul-sucking nightmare. Distractions abound in the wireless, infotainment age.
Health factors determine how well we respond to our daily stressors.
Any of these can undermine our ability to withstand stress and contribute to chronic stress response:
- Stress hormones rise to keep blood sugar up.
- Glucose metabolism can be blunted — lowering ATP, and preventing energy uptake in the future.
ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICITY causes…
- Mold or industrial toxins can overwhelm the body, interfering with glucose metabolism, causing stress hormones to rise for an alternate source of energy.
- The body can also perceive chemicals as threats (Cell Danger Response) and reacts with stress hormones.
Gut ENDOTOXIN Causes…
- Toxins from the gut overwhelm the system and interfere with glucose metabolism.
- Over time, endotoxin instantly trigger the release of inflammation and stress hormones.
- Endotoxin may rise after every meal, leading to a search for a diet that doesn’t cause a stress response.
Nutritional Deficiency Causes…
- In nutritional deficiency, glucose metabolism is impaired, causing the body to search for alternate sources of fuel.
- Stress hormones rise in response to provide energy.
Poor Sleep Causes…
- In poor sleep, inflammation rises, immunity falls, and glucose metabolism slows down.
- In response, stress hormones rise to provide additional energy.
RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS CAUSE…
- When we struggle in relationships, stress hormones rise — elevating blood sugar for extra energy to meet the challenge.
- Over time, chronically elevated stress hormones result in depletion of fuel reserves and, eventually, a depleted body.
Why Must I Consider Health Factors?
These health factors only matter because they are connected to the health of the nervous system.
They could be the difference between swift improvement and a roadblock.
By contrast, improving these factors — gut health, diet, sleep, air quality — allows us to further heal our nervous system.
Healing from an overdriven stress response can take time.
Sometimes, progress can still be observed years later — and that’s a good thing. It means we are never through healing!
Healing the stress response can involve:
All of these endeavors take time. Toxin reduction, nutrient restoration, improving gut microbiome — these don’t happen overnight.
In fact, these don’t happen in isolation, either. As one area improves, it positively impacts all other areas.
This positive feedback loop as multiple systems “come back online” is powerful — and represents a profound path to deep healing.
It isn’t a single diet that fixes us. It’s the combined awareness of multiple approaches that work synergistically to restore life and vitality to the body and mind.
You. Are. Safe.
As the body’s energetic functions return, we can consciously reflect on our brain, itself — with a newfound source of physical strength.
The brain is a remarkable organ, capable of survival through the most difficult of challenges. In fact, many of the unlikeable habits it forms are in direct response to immense stressors. It’s incredible what the brain can do to survive.
On the other hand, retraining the brain involves rewiring our neurons through repeated exposure to messages and stimuli that reflect safety. Your brain is safe now. Finally, you are safe.
You will be safe and you are actively becoming safe.
The brain can learn safety through:
- words (self-talk)
- gentle movement
- fixing nutritional deficiencies caused by poor digestion or restricted dieting
- restoring the circadian rhythm
- inhabiting the body, rather than pushing it away
Amazingly, a clean living space can work wonders for the brain — even in an imperfect situation.
An environment that is noticeably improving can also represent a step toward safety. Perfection isn’t required, but improvement is — and we need to feel that we have enough control to improve our world, even in small ways.
Come Back To The Body
Our consciousness needs to become embodied again.
This may be difficult if we’ve come to despise or even loathe our failing body. Perhaps we feel like the body betrayed us by getting sick.
In deep or prolonged stress, it’s common mentally leave our broken body. We dissociate.
There’s also the opposing thought: Perhaps we betrayed our body by not caring for it.
These concepts are understandable, but is this thinking helpful — or true?
The Blame Game Isn’t the Whole Story
Our bodies did not betray us.
What’s true is this: we were always doing the best we could — with our understanding and energy levels — for the body.
The body has always done the best it could for us.
There is no blame, there is only learning.
I refuse to let ignorance keep me down any longer.
As I grow, I will take care of myself, my body, and yes — my mind. I will teach it to relax, so it can do what it already knows how to do:
I am safe, and getting safer.
Walking, qi gong, yin yoga, and gentle swimming are delightful, restorative movements.
Movement is critical to move lymph for detoxification. However, movement also calms the brain, bringing the mind back into the body — the entire body.
It’s wonderful to be aware of gentle movements, but it’s important not to push too hard to be mindful. Nothing magical will happen through forcing mindfulness to happen.
Mindfulness is, certainly, a miracle — but it’s not experienced concretely and it isn’t a goal to attain.
Letting go of control is the faster path to mindfulness, for mindfulness simply means having awareness. Benefits certainly come from awareness, but not if we latch on to the benefits.
This means it’s okay to let your mind wander and even zone out. The brain needs “no expectations.”
The brain needs complete freedom.
Many who study mindfulness practice observe that it can be difficult to not push yourself.
The ability to be mindful, though beautiful, may be a daunting task if bodily and mental energy are low. It’s preferable to calm the mind rather than “trying” to focus your thoughts when you don’t quite have the energy.
Don’t judge your brain or worry about its ‘skills’ — right now, or ever.
One lovely aspect of tai chi and qi gong — and other movements like walking, swimming, gardening, and biking — is that the movements are quite repetitive.
Repetition is, in fact, how the brain learns. When a child says “Read it again!” after an adult reads them a book, repetition is how they learn their languages and the stories.
Thus, the body needs repetitions — again and again and again — safe, healing movements that reaffirm: “I am safe.” Or, perhaps: “I am on the right path to healing.”
A Little More Calm
by Mimi Kuo-Deemer
There are two primary components to restorative breathing.
Breathe With The Belly
The chest has only a subtle role in proper breathing.
However, in our modern world, we don’t want our stomach to stick out! This, unfortunately works against our health.
Our breathing, when we are healthy and relaxed, happens in the gut. Everything is relaxed, from gut to head, and the belly rises and falls gently.
Ujayyi Breathing — Slowly & Completely Exhale
We need to expell the air completely from our lungs.
Not every single breath, though. Not all the time. But several times a day — the lungs need to fully exhale.
The best way I’ve found is the breathing practice taught in yoga classes: Ujayyi breathing — also known as: “the ocean breath” for the sound you make as you breath.
Using this breathing practice to exhale completely, while making your “in” and “out” breaths similar in length can be incredible for your body and mind. You do not need to do this for very long — even just a few minutes — or that often (just a few times a day).
It Only Takes A Little
Even a single minute of breathing can impact your nervous system.
And if one minute helps so much, imagine how the regular practice of calm breathing can help your brain.
You don’t really need to breathe all that deeply. Just breathe regularly, evenly, slowly, and with the Ujayyi “ocean sound” as you take in a expel air.
Once you’re able to breathe deeply in regular intervals, if you remain still — you’re meditating.
Meditation, at its most basic form, is:
regular breathing + being still
What About My Thoughts?
If you’re wondering what to do with your thoughts while meditating (being still and breathing), there are dozens of different approaches!
But the simplest & best concept is: just be aware of your thoughts (without fighting them off).
Whatever comes up in the mind, notice the thought is there and let go of it, Then return back to noticing the breath. When another thought comes up, observe how you notice it and let it go.
You’ll probably find that you’ve been thinking about something for 5 minutes before you even realized it! That’s very much okay.
The only goal is to be still, breathe with regular ins & outs, and watch your thoughts.
Healing is available when we become still, breathe, and develop awareness of our breath, thoughts, bodily sensations, and sounds around us.
Add Something to Concentrate On
If you like, you can concentrate on an object, person, or idea — rather than simply observing.
Loved ones, ideas like faith/love/forgiveness, or God.
Keep in mind that active concentration may be difficult for a healing brain. Using your concentration is only helpful if you want to do it, and find it helpful.
You can also pray while you are still and breathing.
Expressing thoughts, feelings, and yearnings is immensely healing. Prayer can also be quiet, listening. This can be very cleansing and unifying to the mind, and teach it to become more still.
Often, it’s the thoughts we harbor — left unsaid — that keep us trapped in endless motion, unable to calm down, and ultimately unable to find health.
In prayer, we can share these unspoken thoughts, fears and feelings — and find on the other end acceptance, love and release.
Music itself is a lovely healer of the nervous system.
Many frequencies of audible noise have been to shown to directly affect brain waves.
The sweet and repetitive cadence of words and melodies is similar to gentle repetitive movements.
All biology depends on rhythm. Heart beats are in a rhythm. Sleep is a rhythm. Metabolism is a rhythm. Digestion is a rhythm. Brain waves are rhythms.
If mindfulness is about coming into the moment, music and singing can be about losing yourself in the moment.
While it’s true that there is something about you that is unique — we are all a part of something greater than ourselves, something that ties us together, something we can get lost in, and belong to.
The restorative power of music can be enjoyed by yourself or in a group. We can make it at home, or listen to it anywhere.
Music can become a soundtrack of your health & longevity — an escape from difficulty, and a return to peace and authenticity.
Take stock of your relationships in your life. Do you smile and laugh daily, and are you encouraged by your friends and loved ones to tell “your truth”?
If not, the people in your life aren’t helping you very much — and it’s impacting your health.
Smiling, laughing and telling the truth are all elements of a restorative relationship.
If your relationships are poor, it doesn’t mean you need to leave these people immediately. But it’s good to recognize how good or bad a relationship is.
If they dismiss your requests for improvement, this is evidence of a toxic relationship. There may be little hope of fixing it without major counseling intervention. People don’t grow and change unless they want to.
However, it’s essential you don’t steamroll them into changing. Guilt, shame, or aggressive tactics will surely cause them to reflexively push back and counter attack. You can make a relationship much worse — and cement its future for the worse — even as you try to improve it.
If you wish to try and change your relationships, you must ask for what you need and give ample opportunity for them to fail as they learn by being supportive and forgiving.
Smiling heals the brain.
Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about keeping a “half-smile” on your face for much of the day. This half-smile is so empowering because it takes almost zero energy to curl up the corners of your mouth.
And yet it imparts lovely balance to the mind, brain chemicals, and your interactions with others. I lovingly recommend the half-smile.
Laughter is a no-brainer! Just laugh.
Drop inhibitions and become a person who laughs easily. It doesn’t have to be loud laughter. Even a silent giggle is great for your health.
Look people in the eye when they talk, and be ready to laugh when they give you something — anything — to laugh about. Your brain will thank you — and they might, too.
Making people feel good is a healing practice, as well, and there are few better ways to do so than being a willing laugher.
Brain fog can make attentive listening difficult to achieve. A little half-smile can help provide you a calm, resting space –even if you’re not able to catch all the words being spoken.
Telling The Truth
Telling the truth is often hard because we don’t know what’s going on in our hearts — and when we do, we don’t have the words to express it.
There are so many rules for social interaction that prevent us from saying the truth.
Those rules may not be serving you. It’s critical for health and longevity to say what you think — to be authentic and accurately respresent yourself to others.
Say “no” when you don’t have the energy or desire for something — and don’t feel guilty.
If you’re worried about something, pipe up. You’ll probably say it wrong, but you’ll get better as you practice. Seek to clarify when words didn’t come out right.
In relationships, you also don’t have to know everything before you speak. It is okay to say “I don’t know.” Here’s an example:
“Hey babe, can I tell you something? I’m just… upset.”
“I’m actually not sure. I don’t know. I’ve been upset for a couple days.”
“I don’t want you to feel bad, but I want you to know what’s happening with me. Will you be willing to listen to me later after I figure out what’s bothering me? I want to solve it, together, because I want to feel close to you.”
Being direct is not easy at first — it goes against our social concepts of avoiding conflict or being vulnerable. It takes a lot of practice to learn to speak truthfully and authentically — especially if our childhood did not encourage such talk.
Most of all, it requires two people who are interested in honest, truthful conversations that are continuous and ongoing.
Ultimately, telling the truth is also empowering when you’re around uncomfortable or combative people.
If someone is treating you badly, you don’t have to insult them, prove them wrong, or “show them” how you really feel. A simple: “I don’t want to be treated this way” will facilitate growth and resolution, even if that growth and resolution only happens for you. Here’s an example:
You: “I don’t want to be spoken to this way.”
Them: “Really, how? How exactly don’t you want to be treated?”
You: “This way. I just don’t like this.”
Them: “Well, i don’t like how you did this, and this, and that.”
You: “Well for that, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” (-OR-) “I wish it didn’t come across that way, and I’m sorry it offended you. I still don’t want to be treated this way.”
By apologizing proactively for any wrongdoing you’ve done, you’ve taken away their weapon and aligned yourself with them.
If they bring up more things you’ve done, own that too, if necessary, and stay true: I don’t want to be treated *this* way, now. If they bring up untrue accusations against you, include that in how you don’t want to be treated: “You are now saying things that aren’t true, and I don’t like that either.”
This is not guaranteed to win over your “enemy” but it will ensure profound benefits for your sanity, your heart, your brain, and your healing body.
On the other hand, few things are worse for healing than stewing about what someone did or said to us.
Handle it — directly and honestly — and be done with it.
Finally, when dealing with adversaries, don’t leave out the possibility for forgiveness. It’s among the most healing energies there is.
Most Powerful Phrases For Relationships & Interactions
Include these phrases in your daily arsenal, if they resonate with you.
“I don’t like this.”
“No. I can’t.”
“I need/want ___________”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m don’t know yet, but I’d like to figure it out.”
People need to know that you’re not okay now, but that you will be. (Unless you won’t. Maybe their behavior has crossed a line and you need to let them know that — or end the relationship).
“I forgive you.”
“I care about you.”
When we practice telling the truth, our bonds deepen, and we can begin to get the support we need.
When supported, are better able to nurture and support others. They can then support us more, and the “virtuous cycle” continues.
Our children can grow up with the skillset and strength to stand up for themselves, to ask for what they need, and say no. Our partners live empowered lives. Our resentments for each other can heal, and our eyes can light up when we see each other.
Sharing Details About Illness
Most everyday people will not understand, or be interested in, hearing about chronic illnesses.
In this situation, say true things, but don’t reveal much. For example, if someone asks how you’re feeling, and you aren’t feeling well:
Them: “Hey! How are you?”
You: “Hi! Oh, I’m not feeling too great. How are you?”
Them: “Oh, what’s wrong?”
You: “I’m just dealing with some stuff. Making progress.”
They are free to ask more, but your “positive” note at the end gives them the chance to keep the conversation short.
The goal is to avoid an uncomfortable situation — and protect you from the judgment, rejection, arguments, or unwanted advice of someone who cannot possibly “get it” anyway.
Looking For Validation?
Telling the truth also does not mean to share your story with hopes of finding validation from those who cannot provide it.
Looking for validation in the wrong places is destructive to health at every age. It is not recommended.
Even with a doctor: If a doctor doesn’t resonate with what you’re saying, you won’t be able to convince them of your point of view.
It’s best to deal with “people in authority positions” (such as a doctor) by asking questions about what THEY think.
When you get an answer you don’t like, don’t be surprised. Most people aren’t going to agree with you on everything. Don’t be shocked, or let it ruin your moment.
Careful Words Can Reduce Stress
However, by speaking true (though often-restrained) words you will save yourself years of grief and stress — and that will directly lower your fight-or-flight stress response.
You can enter any situation knowing exactly how you will need to act: Just as you always do, saying true words.
Kindness is Always an Option
If people don’t like your thoughtful, kind truth — that’s ultimately their problem.
There’s not much more you can do besides telling the truth and being kind about it.
Kindness is always an option — even if your truth will be difficult to hear.
Apologizing for how your truth makes someone feel, even as you unapologetically share it, can help ease tensions — and help your brain continue to heal.
Circadian Rhythm, Massage, Gargling
Sleeping deeply and early bedtimes are essential to the health of the brain.
Massage is deeply relaxing (although it can stir up dead cell waste and other stored toxins — drink water).
Gargling actually stimulates the vagus nerve, which is associated with myriad improvements in nervous system function.
You can do this.
I believe in you.
You can be
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