Why It’s Important to Decompress Your Nervous System

It’s time to decompress your nervous system. Burnout is real, and it happens when we’ve taken on too much for too long.

A book by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang entitled, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less outlines how rest and work are not polar opposites, but rather complementary, and both are vital for a productive and fulfilling life. In fact, studies have consistently demonstrated that overwork is counterproductive; the number of hours worked per week is inversely related to output and productivity.

Pang emphasizes that “rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”

It’s important to notice the signs and symptoms of an overstimulated nervous system, and then take steps and time to recuperate and recover for the sake of your work, your loved ones, and your health—body, mind, and spirit.

Nervous System 101

The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response), which jumps to action when we experience any stress, threat, or perceived danger; and the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest response), which takes over after the stress response in order to bring our body back to homeostasis

As a survival mechanism, during the stress response, our body produces chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol, that trigger a pounding heart, shallow breathing, and perspiration. This process allows us to react to life-threatening situations, like being chased by a wild animal, by fighting or fleeing danger. 

Unfortunately, because our lifestyles have evolved faster than our human physiology, our bodies also experience this stress response during a tense discussion or even at the ping of an email notification. And because we experience so many of these stressors per day, it’s vital to notice the signs of chronic stress in order to take proper care of yourself.

Signs you need to decompress…

When you’re feeling overstressed, exhausted, unmotivated, and perhaps withdrawing from the people in your life, it’s time to decompress. Or on the other end of the spectrum, you may catch yourself taking the stress out on those around you by being overly controlling, short, or lashing out. This displaced aggression due to chronic stress can have real effects on job performance, relationships, and overall well-being.

In addition to the behavioral signs, you may notice the development of health issues as a result of an overstimulated nervous system. Symptoms may include:

  • lack of energy
  • difficulty sleeping
  • recurring or persistent aches and pains
  • trouble focusing
  • feelings of anger, frustration, and fear
  • forgetfulness
  • changes in appetite
  • depression and/or anxiety

75 to 90% of all doctor’s office visits can be attributed to stress-related ailments. When left unmanaged, chronic stress can increase the risk of an array of health problems, like high blood pressure, heart disease, menstrual problems, anxiety and depression, gut inflammation, diabetes, and skin conditions, like eczema or acne. It can also suppress your immune system and speed up the aging process. This is why it is critical to learn how to downshift from the high gear of the stress response in order to access your parasympathetic nervous system.

How to decompress your nervous system

Calming an overactive sympathetic nervous system by kickstarting the relaxation response in your body is key to counteracting the effects of chronic stress. Different methods work better for different people, but below are 4 of the most effective ways:

#4 Physical touch

  • Research shows that a hug can trigger a neural pattern that buffers the effects of stress, producing an instant calming effect. So be sure to cuddle up with your loved ones and pets (it works with animals too!) as much as possible. Additionally, during the socially-distanced times of the pandemic, weighted blankets took off in popularity because the physical pressure they offer produces a similar effect, improving sleep and relieving stress.
  • You can also employ the services of a massage therapist. Right here at Ignite Yoga, Marlene at Massage Remedies offers a variety of massages. Getting a massage or even performing self-massage can have immediate stress-relieving effects.

#3 Pranayama

  • Surprisingly enough, many people are unsure of how to breathe properly, and if you’re unable to breathe deeply, you’ll find it more difficult to recover after experiencing a stress response. If we breathe slowly, consciously, deeply into our diaphragm, it sends a message to the body to de-activate the fight-or-flight response, and activate the rest-and-digest response. 
  • Breathwork can be absolutely life-changing. Read up on the practice of Khumbaka Pranayama, and its stress-relieving, nervous-system-balancing effects. Or check out our video for how to practice the Lion’s Breath technique for a quick and fun way to release tension. People often resist this one at first, and then grow to love it once they get the hang of it!

#2 Meditation

  • Most of us have heard of or have experienced the myriad benefits of meditation. Taking even just a few minutes per day can shift your brain and body into a calm state that can have ripple effects throughout the rest of your day. If you’re interested in learning more ways to meditate, join us for our upcoming Primordial Sound Meditation 3-Week Course. It is bound to be an amazing experience. In addition to that offering, you can visit Ignite’s YouTube channel for meditations taught by our very own teachers.
  • In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, for example, that “while washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.” This means that you’re not rushing through it, but noticing the scent of the soap, the shape of the dishes, the feel of the water, breathing, and being yourself. Studies support the addition of this simple practice to your day. And this can also be applied to activities like taking a bath, listening to music, or walking in nature. The key is doing tasks one at a time and being present to all sensations without multi-tasking or allowing distractions. It is akin to meditation, but some people find it more accessible, and the effects are similar.

And our #1 way to decompress at Ignite Yoga is, of course, by practicing YOGA

  • A daily asana practice helps to release physical blockages, relieve tension throughout the body, and improve strength and flexibility. All of which works in conjunction to de-activate the stress response and induce stress relief and relaxation.
  • Our ZEN classes will bring you back to simplicity by incorporating long deep stretches with gentle flowing movement, as well as moments of stillness. This practice is for all levels of practitioners and combines yoga, pranayama, and meditation for a trifecta of nervous system decompression.

And remember that stress is contagious. So do yourself (and those around you) a favor by checking in on a regular basis, taking note of the signs of stress, and finding equilibrium in your nervous system.

You deserve balance ✨

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