In our modern world we are often going from one thing to the next, or rather, trying to continuously get on top of multiple overlapping tasks, with an ever-growing task list. It seems there are just not enough hours in the day to get everything done.
All too often time to ourselves and self-care are the first things to be sacrificed. This coping strategy may feel efficient in the short-term, but it will soon lead to fatigue and adrenal dysfunction, aka. “burnout”. In other words, with constant low-grade stress, the adrenal glands, aptly named as they produce hormones like adrenaline that give us energy, will not be able to keep up with demand. This leaves us in a pervasive “fight or flight” state, where we feel wired and tired.
What your body needs is balance. And to balance this fight or flight sympathetic activity in the body you need more of the opposite: parasympathetic “rest and digest” activities. Here are 5 simple ways to get your nervous system back to a balanced, productive, focused, calm, and rejuvenated state of being. I suggest adding in one activity at a time and making a habit of it before adding in the next.
- Breathe your stress away. Begin by placing one hand on your belly and the other over your chest. As you breathe in notice which hand moves the most. If you notice the hand on your chest moving more; work to move your breath down so the hand on your belly is moving the most. Pause for a count of four seconds at the end of each inhalation and exhalation. Repeat x 2-5 minutes every time you start to feel overwhelmed, as well as after waking and before falling asleep.
- Drink up! Drinking adequate water maintains your fluid volume. When you are dehydrated your heart tends to beat faster, which requires more sympathetic activity. Remember to drink one cup of water for every cup of coffee as coffee is a diuretic and will dehydrate you. Coffee is also a stimulant which will push you into a sympathetic state. There is no magic number for how much water your body actually needs, as it differs for each person. But as a very general rule, I suggest drinking half of your body weight in ounces. To fine-tune your particular water requirements, consider your diet, weight, and physical activity level. A good practice is to drink 16oz after waking, as well as 4-8oz before meals.
- Slow down meal times. Digestion is a parasympathetic activity. If we eat on the go, such as while working or driving, our digestion is not optimized, throwing us into a gut maddening state where food is poorly digested and assimilated. This can promote issues such as food intolerances, belly aches, and heartburn. For a healthy nervous system, it is important to take time to prepare and enjoy nourishing meals.
- Sleep more. Deep, restorative sleep encourages decreased sympathetic tone. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, one should go to sleep between 9 and 10PM, as one benefits from deeper sleep. Additionally, make your sleep environment cool, quiet, and as dark as possible. Reduce exposure to bright lights such as computer and phone screens right before bed to help sleep onset.
- Visualize grounding. These can either be self-guided or with the help of others. Find a quiet, comfortable space to be seated. The visualization exercises are nearly limitless, but find ones that resonate with you. A good one is to imagine roots coming from the soles of your feet and going through the floor, through the foundation, through the soil and rocks; imagining them spreading all the way to the center of the earth. Let your imagination go in a disciplined way and have fun with it.
There are very effective ways to test adrenal function. My favorite, of which I have run hundreds, is the 24-Hour Salivary Cortisol/DHEA test. This test provides a visual graph of your cortisol level (ie. adrenal activity) over a 24-hour period, plus DHEA. I have found this particular test to be phenomenal in pinning down adrenal issues underlying or contributing to sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, brain fog and other health issues.
Here is an example of results from a patient with insomnia, brain fog, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue:
Comprehensive adrenal testing, which can also include serum cortisol, testosterone, estrogens, progesterone, pregnenolone, and DHEA-S, is available through Reboot Center.
Trinder et al. Autonomic activity during human sleep as a function of time and sleep stage. J Sleep Res. 2001 December; 10(4): 253–264.