Stress, stress, and more stress! We are seriously stressed out these days. At least that is what many studies are revealing about the general population in North America. A study done by the American Psychology Association found that close to two-thirds of adults feel “their life has been forever changed” by the Covid pandemic and its aftereffects. A recent survey revealed that since the pandemic, inflation, supply chain shortages, and global instability rank as the top 3 stressors in most people’s lives.
How Stressed Are You Really?
I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, many of my clients, friends, and even myself have experienced an increase in stress levels. If you don’t agree, turn on the news and listen to the reports for a few minutes and then check in on how you feel. Are you anxious? Maybe you’re feeling somewhat hopeless? You may even be stirred to anger. Even more, you may feel a bit of all these emotions, topped with a heaping measure of depression to boot! The fact is, we are facing another pandemic, a pandemic of stress leading to dysregulation.
A Dysregulated Generation
Dysregulation is a big word that means an abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a person’s metabolic, physiological, and/or psychological process. Often, abnormality or impairment occurs when we are constantly stressed out and under duress. When responding to dangerous and stressful situations, it’s our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that jumps into action, which is also known as our fight or flight mode. Once the dangerous or stressful situation is over, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) kicks in to bring us back to a state of relaxation. The two systems work together to keep our bodies in balance. However, when our fight or flight mode is in a continual activated state our whole metabolic, physiological, and psychological process is in peril.
Your Nervous System Danger Zone
One of the key contributors to mental health issues is a dysregulated nervous system. A dysregulated nervous system will often cause us to respond (thoughts, feelings, behavior) in inappropriate or disproportional ways by either over-reacting or under-reacting to an event, person, or situation. The mental health issues caused by nervous system dysregulation may include depression, anxiety, and poor memory or concentration. Inappropriate behaviors could also result such as outbursts of anger or rage, passive aggression, shutting down or isolation, lying, and being argumentative or combative.
Are You at Risk?
If you’re concerned about having a dysregulated nervous system, you’re in good company. In truth, nearly everyone is at risk, mostly due to the reality of our ever-increasing stressful world. Whether it be financial burdens, the threat of global conflict, political unrest, or just the everyday grind of rush hour traffic and work pressures, the world has become a breeding ground for stress and an overloaded nervous system. Even a trait such as perfectionism can make you more vulnerable to a dysregulated nervous system as you add more stress by performing in an already overperforming culture and society.
Other factors that could further put you at risk include things such as:
- A history of emotional, psychological or physical abuse.
- A history of traumatic events or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Physical and/or emotional burnout and exhaustion.
- Hormonal imbalances.
- Certain medical conditions such as diabetes.
Fortunately, a dysregulated nervous system does not mean your life is now a mess and there’s no getting back to normal. We can always find ways to bring ourselves back into balance. Even if there have been traumatic events that have thrown your system out of balance, healing, and recovery are not out of reach. Getting back to a place of peace and wholeness may seem unattainable, but be assured, if you commit and stay focused, you can get back to a state of calm and well-being.
3 Ways to Regulate Your Nervous System
1. Stimulate the healthy function of your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve plays an important role in communication between your brain and other organs such as your lungs, heart, and stomach. It’s also one of the main components responsible for the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve is a target for many relaxation therapies such as yoga and meditation. Stimulating the activity of the vagus nerve is a powerful way to heal a dysregulated nervous system. Here are some other ways to stimulate the healthy function of your vagus nerve:
- Deep, slow diaphragm (belly) breathing. Deep breathing exercises can ground and center you in a stress-induced state as well as help you to shift your focus away from what’s prompting your sympathetic nervous system. The human mind can generally only focus on one thing at a time, so focusing on the rhythm of your breathing helps you to not focus on the stressor.
- Shout or sing loudly. Activating your vocal cords will in turn stimulate the vagus nerve.
- Immerse your face in cold water or splash cold water on your face.
- Laughter not only can lift your mood, but it also stimulates the vagus nerve.
2. Retrain your limbic system.
Our limbic system has many roles. The primary limbic system function is to process and regulate emotion and memory. Behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and even our sense of smell are also related to our limbic system. Since the limbic system is linked to the endocrine and automatic nervous systems, it plays a role in our body’s reaction to stress and stressful situations. Experiences are embedded in our brain and body through a network of neurons.
Our response can trigger the limbic system often resulting in distress (fight or flight) in the mind and body. Retraining our limbic system allows for a new experience through being AWARE that our past experiences do not need to define our present, ACCEPTING that this situation could be different, and ALLOWING for a new outcome.
3. Be on the lookout for hidden stressors.
Our bodies can interpret something as a stressor, even when we don’t notice. Even the smallest stimuli can trigger an already overwhelmed sympathetic nervous system. Therefore, be on the lookout and be proactive in avoiding hidden stressors. Hidden stressors can be things like:
- Violent or scary movies, negative news media reports, stressful TV, or reality shows. These types of negative stimuli can make our breathing shallow and our hearts race. Try opting for an inspirational or feel-good show instead.
- Aggressive, heart-thumping, and loud music. Music can positively or negatively affect our emotional state, making it either a stress-inducing or stress-reducing factor. Soothing music, inspirational music or meditative music are good options to calm a dysregulated nervous system.
- Addictive social media scrolling. The constant scrolling through social media can lead to the release of stress hormones as we can become over-stimulated by all the flashy photos, videos and continual options. Taking a vacation from social media does wonders for your mood and your nervous system.
We Are Here to Help!
If you would like to learn more about how to calm a dysregulated nervous system, Online-Therapy.com is the place to be. When you sign up to work with Online-Therapy.com you get to choose a therapist you feel comfortable with, and you can develop a personalized approach that supports your needs to bring about the changes you desire.
At Online-Therapy.com we offer an integrated and holistic approach to wellness and wholeness. Our platform includes regular sessions with a therapist via phone, text chat or video, worksheet support, journaling, and yoga. Our ongoing support means you have access to the professional advice you need every day, guiding you to better mental health and wellness.
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