How do these exercises help calm my nervous system?
Great question! When Dr Bammens started to create this app, she wanted to not only highlight science backed nervous system balancing practices, but also highlight some of the aspects of nervous system regulation beyond meditation and breathing exercises including: grounding, bilateral stimulation, visualization, stress release, and more. Each category of exercises was carefully selected to help you bring balance to your nervous system in different ways. We acknowledge that everyone is unique, and what may work for one person, may not work for another. That’s why there are so many categories of practices to incorporate into your day to day life. Now, lets dive into how these categories of exercises work!
In our previous blog post, we shared the two branches of our nervous system which are key to understanding how these calming practices work. Our goal with all of these practices is to activate our parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of our nervous system and dissipate the energy built up in our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. Now lets dive into to each exercise category.
These exercises are meant to help activate your parasympathetic nervous system through two pathways: bilateral stimulation and vagal nerve stimulation.
Bilateral stimulation works as a rhythmic auditory, visual or tactile stimuli used to activate both sides of your brain. When this activation occurs, we are brought into the present moment and often begin to let go of the other thoughts that were occupying our brain. Often when we have experience traumatic events or anxiety, our memories can be fragmented of these events. Bilateral stimulation allows both of the sides of our brain to work through those fragmented memories in a calm and balanced light. Neurologically, it reduces the firing of our amygdala (our fear center of our brain that processes emotions and stores emotion based memories) to change our fear response in difficult moments.
Vagal nerve stimulation acts on our parasympathetic nervous system superhighway – our vagus nerve. Our vagus nerve originates in our brain stem and travels down along the side of our necks down to the heart and gastrointestinal organs. It is the nerve that activates our parasympathetic system throughout our entire body. There are many ways to activate this nerve (which you’ll explore in this category of exercises) including: cold exposure, humming, gargling, breathing, and tapping.
These exercises help you to use up excess adrenaline in your body cause by sympathetic nervous system activation. This can help you feel more grounded and bring your body back into a more balanced state.
Movement is an incredibly valuable tool that you can explore in this category of exercises. When we have excess adrenaline in our system, the easiest way to dissipate it is simply to burn it off. Think of adrenaline as excess fuel to your muscles and body. How do you use up more fuel? You move more! These exercises will help you to move your body and breathe in ways to help to dissipate that excess adrenaline.
These exercises are all about bringing you back into the ‘here and now’. Anxiety can often cause us to focus on the past and the future, and it pulls us away from the present moment. Many times we can often end up on autopilot when we are living in a state of chronic ‘fight or flight’ and may not even recognize that our days are flying by without us realizing. These can be incorporated into our day to day lives to slow down and be mindful of what is going on around us. When we are better able to bring ourselves into the present, we can then begin to process and move through these difficult moments.
There are many ways to bring ourselves into the present including: grounding, self-soothing, and mindful distractions. You’ll see many different exercises here that help to engage your senses, bring awareness to your surroundings, and turn your awareness internally to ensure you’re meeting your basic fundamental needs.
The final category of exercises is meant to use breath work, guided visualizations, and relaxation techniques to help relieve and process symptoms of mental discomfort. When we are experiencing anxiety and stress, we often may experience many mental symptoms including racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, feeling disconnected to your surroundings, fatigue, and more. These exercises are meant to help not only bring you into the present moment, but also help you to bring awareness to how you are feeling and process it is a supportive way. Many of these practices incorporate breathing with movement and visualization to help promote a sense of relaxation.
Together, these practices impact all aspects of your nervous system to help promote a sense of calm, and a feeling of balance. We hope these explanations were helpful to dive deeper into the ‘why’ of the practices we share here. We hope you continue to explore what feels good for you as you navigate your healing journey.