Sooth panic with this tried and tested tips from experts
The nervous system is a complex collection of nerves and neurons that transmit signals between different parts of the body. It’s essentially the body's electrical wiring. Emotional messages are carried by neurotransmitters called neuropeptides, which have either a negative or positive electrical charge.
When we experience an emotion or a change of emotion, these neuropeptides travelling throughout our body and our brain are literally changing the chemistry of every cell in our body. If we don’t act on these waves of emotion, the charged molecules literally get stuck in our body like the wrong key stuck in a lock. Being aware of them, expressing them and acting upon them enables them to discharge. Both positive and negative emotions need expression.
When negative emotional states persist, there is a danger that harmful chemicals will remain in our cells, creating a toxic system and making us more susceptible to illness by inhibiting cell function. In other words, if you’re dwelling on covid-19 and experiencing unaddressed stress, you literally may be compromising your health by straining your nervous system.
To stop that from happening, here are some practical tips to help you calm your nervous system:
If we breathe well, clarity and quality of thought improve and we achieve superb emotional self-regulation. At least ten minutes of daily paced breathing helps keep cortisol levels under control – at the first signs of stress, begin paced breathing. Breathe diaphragmatically, in through the nose, out through the mouth with a steady count in and steady count out. In and out counts don’t have to match (e.g., 5 in/7 out or 7 in/7 out). A longer out-breath helps dispel CO2, which increases cortisol if it builds up in the base of the lungs, (which can happen because CO2 is heavier than oxygen). Paced breathing with a longer out-breath is called ‘recovery breathing’, and is especially helpful if you’re feeling panicked.
Shake it out
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty focusing, in addition to recovery breathing, try the ‘shake out’. Bend at the waist (slight bend in the knees). If possible, get your head below your waist. Shake your shoulders and arms vigorously, and punch the air while you vocalize with an ‘ahhhh’ sound. This movement disperses chemicals that move through our body and can get stuck at the base of our spine. It’s like rebooting a computer for our body chemistry. If you’re dwelling on things and need to shift your state of mind, give this a try.
Meditation not only calms us, but it also strengthens our immune system because it increases the amount of SIgA (Secretory Immunoglobulin Antibody) in our body, which thickens the mucous that lines the nose, mouth, trachea, lungs, and gut. That thicker mucous makes it more difficult for viruses to penetrate our cells and bloodstream. Pick a meditation app to jumpstart your meditation practice.
Connect and rest
Limited physical contact can quickly decrease our oxytocin levels, leaving us feeling isolated and even more stressed. When oxytocin drops, cortisol rises, negatively affecting our immune system. 24/7 news cycles and social media can take us away from people rather than connecting us to them if we spend hours scrolling silently through posts and negative stories. In addition, if we’re feeling panic, resting and relaxing will be more difficult, further increasing our stress levels. Instead, we need to stay engaged with our support network and weave restorative activities into our daily lives.
To boost oxytocin, stay in touch with your support system, communicate more openly, use more appreciative words, and build trust by being even more considerate of each other than usual. Who can you reach out to right now?
- Retreat (disengage from all media)
- Eat (heathfully)
- Sleep (7 hours minimum)
- Treat (again, healthfully)
Healthy treats at home might be reading, watching, or listening to something enjoyable, drinking a cup of soothing tea, taking a hot bath, touring a museum online – whatever you would consider a reward, which reboots dopamine levels.
Exercising our bodies, releases steroids (testosterone, DHEA and HGH) in both women and men that make us stronger and more confident. The robustness of our nervous system and heart–brain function relies on our physical fitness. Body movement enhances brain connections and function in various ways, improving mental focus. Yoga, which benefits all bodily systems (vital organ function, muscle and bone stability, nervous system, lymph system and cardiovascular system function) is particularly helpful.
• If you have a busy mind, learn Iyengar Yoga (a series of stretches in still poses).
• If you hold too much tension, try Hatha Yoga (breathing and gentle movement).
• If you live a static life and want a dynamic yoga class, try Ashtanga Yoga (powerful breathing, stretching and movement sequences only to be tried under guidance as they can be very intense).
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Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton are the authors of wellbeing book Physical Intelligence (Simon & Schuster), available now in ebook and paperback, RRP £14.99.