#Askingforafriend: Calming the nervous system

By Caitlin Rudgear
GCU Office of Student Care
#Askingforafriend

In life, there are instances where we might feel tense, keyed up or on edge. Scenarios such as giving a presentation, taking a test, conflict in relationships, trauma triggers or stepping outside of one’s comfort zone often come with very uncomfortable body sensations.

The autonomic nervous system is always scanning our environments for both signs of safety and signs of danger, and its goal is to keep us safe and alive. When our amygdala (the brain’s fear center) unconsciously detects a threat either in our environment (e.g., an alarm going off) or internally (e.g., a worrying thought), our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated.

Once this happens, we enter what is known as the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” response, and the following symptoms may be experienced:

  • Anxious/overwhelmed
  • Emotional or aggressive outburst
  • Anger or rage
  • Rigidity/inability to compromise
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior or thoughts

We may have the desire to physically confront the threat (the “fight” response), we might try to use our energy to escape the situation (the “flight” response) or we might become so overwhelmed that we feel stuck and cannot move in the situation (the “freeze” response).

In order to calm our nervous system down and get back into what’s known as the Window of Tolerance, which is characterized by feeling calm, cool, collected and connected, we can try some of the following strategies to calm the nervous system:

  • Mindfulness exercises/focusing on being present in the moment: Download the app Insight Timer and listen to a guided meditation.
  • Grounding exercises: Use the 54321 technique. Ask yourself, “What are 5 things I can see? What are 4 things I can feel? What are 3 things I can hear? What are 2 things I can smell? What is 1 thing I can taste?”
  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Focus on allowing the belly to fully expand and contract with every breath in and out.
  • Self-soothing: Try wrapping up in a blanket, turning on your favorite song, going for a walk or calling someone in your support system.

It’s important to note that all bodies do this! If you experience these symptoms, it really means that your body is doing its job and is trying to protect you.

If you notice these experiences are happening often or are getting in the way of your functioning, seeking counseling services can be a helpful strategy to learn to keep your nervous system regulated. 

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Bible Verse

"(Jesus) was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross." (Acts 2:23)

To Read More: www.verseoftheday.com/