Are you someone with a sensitive nervous system who suffers from anxiety, burnout, or trauma? If so, you’re not alone. These are common signs of a dysregulated nervous system, which can be caused by a variety of factors such as chronic stress, traumatic experiences and sleep deprivation.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to help heal your nervous system and improve your quality of life. In this blog post, we will outline 47 practices that have been shown to be beneficial for people with a dysregulated nervous system. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety, boost energy levels, improve sleep quality, and promote overall health and well-being. So if you’re ready to start healing your dysregulated nervous system, keep reading!
We hope that you find these practices helpful and that they help you live a happier and healthier life.
What are the best practices to heal a dysregulated nervous system?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to listing the best practices to heal a dysregulated nervous system. However, some general recommendations can be made based on the unique sensitivity and degree of dysregulation of your nervous system. For example, lifestyle interventions such as diet improvements, regular exercise, and sleep hygiene can be helpful for anyone, but they’re critical for people who have a high degree of sensitivity. Others may benefit from body-mind practices such as yoga, meditation, or breathwork. Still others may find it helpful to see a therapist and/or use supplements to support their nervous system. Ultimately, it is important to experiment with different approaches and find what works best for you.
1. Deep, uninterrupted sleep (7-9 hours)
Deep, uninterrupted sleep is critical for overall health. Most people know that sleep is important, but they may not realize just how critical it is for overall health and well-being. Others suffer from bouts of insomnia and sleep anxiety. During sleep, the body has a chance to rest and repair itself. The brain also uses this time to cleanse itself of toxins that can build up during the day. If your nervous system is dysregulated, you might have sleep problems such as trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night. But don’t worry, there are plenty of things you can do to sleep better!
We can improve our sleep by exposing our eyes to the sun in the morning or by minimising exposure to light after sunset. Avoid eating 2-3 hours before sleep. Learn about your cyrcadian rythm and how it determines your sleep cycles.
2. Deep breathing
Deep breathing is a type of breathing that helps to oxygenate the blood and nervous system. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Deep breathing is one of the quickest ways to calm your nervous system. Try this out by sitting in a comfortable spot and inhaling through your nose while expanding your abdomen and chest. Exhale completely through the mouth and extend the outbreath. While doing that, try to concentrate only on the flow of the air coming through your nose, lungs, and belly and coming back through your mouth. If you find it helpful, close your eyes and put your hand on your chest to feel it expand.
3. Moderate movement (jogging, dancing, walking)
It’s well known that exercise is good for the body, but what about moderate movement? Studies have shown that even moderate movement can have a positive impact on the nervous system. Having an embodiment practice may help you to create awareness in your body. It also allows you to relieve stress and balance dysregulation through bodily movement. Find an activity that you enjoy and experience the boost of endorphins after the practice. If you need extra motivation, you can join some dance classes or jogging group. Who knows, maybe you will discover a new passion and make new friends?
4. Co-regulation with a loved one in a secure relationship
Co-regulation happens in a secure and attuned relationship. When we connect to a loved one who is in a regulated state through touch, breath, or verbal mirroring, we can regulate our nervous systems simultaneously. This helps us shift out of a dysregulated state. Co-regulation has been shown to have a number of benefits, including reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality. When we are able to co-regulate with a loved one, we are tapping into a powerful tool for managing stress and promoting wellness. Being in a healthy relationship where we can rely on the other person increases our sense of security and lowers stress.
5. Yoga, Tai chi, Qi Gong
Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are all traditional practices that have been shown to be effective in calming the nervous system. These exercises help to promote relaxation and harmony within the body, and they can be easily incorporated into a busy lifestyle. As a result, they offer an excellent way to reduce stress and improve overall health. These techniques can help you create more awareness of how you are feeling. If you can catch the tension in your body, you can learn to recognize emotions as they come up. Yoga also teaches proper breathing, which strengthens the peripheral nervous system. There are a great number of yoga styles that you can choose from.
6. Chanting, singing
Chanting and singing are both excellent ways to relax the nervous system. Chanting is a type of vocalizing that is often used in religious or spiritual practices. It involves repeating a word or phrase over and over again. This repetition can help to quiet the mind and focus the thoughts. Singing is also a great way to relax the nervous system.
Chanting and singing allow your breathing to slow down and stimulate the vagus nerve. Vocal stimulation is one of the quickest ways to transition from fight or flight (dysregulation) to rest and digest. Singing can be also an effective method for expressing emotions even if you practice it only at home. Why not do a little concert for yourself?
7. Walking barefoot on the beach, grass, nature
Walking barefoot over natural terrain is suitable for regulating your nervous system. When your feet touch the earth, they receive electrons that promote relaxation. It allows you to connect with the earth’s surface through your feet, which helps to ground your nervous system. Nature has its own calming effects on our minds, which have also been scientifically proven. A study showed that it could help heart rate variability, inflammation, better sleep, cortisol regulation, autonomic nervous system balance, and reduce stress. Walking on the beach can also be a nice massage for our feet.
Massage is more than just a way to relax. It has been shown to have a positive effect on the nervous system, improving circulation and helping to reduce stress hormones. Massage has also been shown to be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. Massage therapy can help activate the parasympathetic division. The body can restore balance through massage, aiding sleep and concentration. After a good massage, oxygen and blood flow moves freely throughout your body. It is also a relaxing practice for your muscles, which tend to be too tense when you experience high stress levels. When your body is relaxed, your mind follows, and you can see that you become more calm and cheerful.
Smell is one of the most powerful senses. It can trigger memories and emotions, and it can also influence our behavior in unexpected ways. For example, the smell of coffee may make us feel more alert, while the smell of baking bread can make us feel hungry. It’s no surprise, then, that our sense of smell is closely linked to our nervous system. Numerous studies show the stress-suppressing effects that aromas have. Scents such as coffee beans and essential oils have been shown to reduce stress markers in the brain with just one sniff.
10. Resting and relaxation without screen time or obligations
Most of us are constantly bombarded with stimulation from our electronic devices. While it can be hard to unplug, it’s important to take some time for rest and relaxation without screens. Allowing your body time to relax fully is very important in strengthening the nervous system. You could relax by having a hot bath, taking deep breaths between meetings/clients, or simply lying down and taking a minute to yourself. Put your phone away and give yourself some time to clear your mind and rest your eyes.
11. Proprioceptive stimulation
Proprioception is the body’s ability to locate its position in space as the body moves. It can be stimulated with weight-bearing (push-ups, crawling), resistance activities (pushing, pulling), heaving lifting, cardiovascular (running, jumping), oral (chewing), and deep pressure (hugs!). Proprioceptive activities help to support and balance your nervous system. Some of them don’t require a lot of time or energy but can still be good exercise for your health.
12. Cold plunges
Water at different temperatures is essential to balance a dysregulated nervous system. Cold therapy has gained serious popularity in recent years, and the reason for that is the multiple health benefits it offers. It has been proven to improve depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders and regulate the nervous system. It also speeds metabolism and improves immune responses in many cases. If you want to find out more about cold therapy, take a look at the Wim Hof Method.
Meditation can have numerous positive effects on stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It also makes us more aware of our thoughts and emotions, and helps us deal with them in a better way. Research shows that meditation can strengthen neural connections or even change the brain’s structure. There are different types of meditation, such as mindfulness meditation, zen meditation, and many others – you can choose the one that is the most suitable for you. Even just five focused breaths throughout the day can significantly impact your nervous system’s health!
14. Tech-free time
It’s no secret that we live in a world that is increasingly reliant on technology. From our smartphones to our laptops, it seems like we can’t go a minute without being plugged in. Staring at your phone screen all day is one of the most overstimulating practices that we all engage in. A notification here, a message there, and before you know it, you have wasted hours scrolling through Instagram and feel dysregulated. It becomes a strong habit or even an addiction that is not so easy to let go. Apart from the psychological consequences of phone addiction, the blue screen affects us physically too. Some of the negative effects are eye disorders or sleep problems (due to melatonin suppression). That’s why it’s so important to have some tech-free time, especially in the evening before going to bed.
Sunshine is essential for our health. Sunlight helps build vitamin D, which helps a dysregulated nervous system. It is best to get into the sun in the morning before the sun reaches its highest UV. There are also a few vitamin D-rich foods: salmon, eggs, and milk. Apart from that, sun exposure increases the level of serotonin, which is responsible for our mood. Taking a walk on a sunny day sounds like a nice thing we can do for our health, doesn’t it? Just remember to protect your skin with SPF cream.
16. Nature/forest bathing
There is something uniquely calming and refreshing about spending time in nature. Maybe it’s the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze, or the sight of trees towering above you. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that being in nature can help to reduce stress and promote a sense of wellbeing. Going into nature has been studied to be a promising therapeutic method for heart rate, blood pressure, and relaxation. A simple forest walk has been shown to reduce stress markers considerably. While being in the forest, the number of stressors is limited and we can fully concentrate on the calming sounds of nature.
17. Journal to release past trauma
Writing down your stressful thoughts, past trauma, or complaints is a great way to clear your mind. This practice is often called ‘mind dumping,’ as it helps reset your thoughts. It can also make it easier to deal with difficult emotions that we experience for any reason. Writing has a therapeutic effect and is sometimes used as a therapeutic method.
18. Epsom salt baths
Epsom salt baths contain magnesium which can increase the mood by elevating serotonin, which reduces stress. Epsom salt can help muscles and nerves with dysregulation. How about an epsom salt bath with relaxing music and scented candle? Simply add two cups of salt to a warm bath and soak for 20 minutes. Your nervous system will thank you for that!
19. Somatic experiencing
Somatic experiencing is a body-orienting technique designed to discharge stress that gets stuck in the body as a result of trauma or other sudden difficult experiences from the past. Somatic experiencing aims to help people regulate their nervous system by teaching them how to reconnect with their body. This can be done through awareness exercises, gentle touch, and specific movements. This practice is done with an educated practitioner that helps the client find safety and learn to self-regulate through therapeutic work with body sensations.
20. Vagus nerve soothing exercises
The vagus nerve is what activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It is connected to your vocal chords and the muscles at the back of your throat. You can physically stimulate the vagus nerve through gargling, singing, om-ing, and laughing. The physical feeling of your vocal cords can activate the vagus nerve! Chant, laugh, hum, sing om-mantras, whatever you feel like doing, to support your nervous system.
Hypnotherapy is a form of guided hypnosis that is achieved with the help of a hypnotherapist. It uses guided relaxation and suggestion to help allow patients to reach a state of deep relaxation. Once in this state, the nervous system is more receptive to positive suggestions from the therapist. This can be used to help address a wide variety of issues, including anxiety, stress, pain management, and more. This trance-like state is like being absorbed in music, movies, or a book. It can rewire the nervous system.
22. Internal family systems
Internal Family Systems help manage different “parts” of your personality. The idea behind this approach is that each of us is a sum of different subpersonalities. It simply means that we are more complex than just one specific personality type. You can be a hard-working person and feel lazy at the same time and that’s ok! Some of the subpersonalities are being created as a result of more or less difficult childhood experiences, and they can limit us in our adult lives. For example, if you have experienced trauma as a child, you may have developed a part that protects you from further hurt. If you have been in this role for too long, you may need help getting out, and this is what Internal family systems help with.
23. Devices for touch and vibration therapy
There are various machines available that provide touch and vibration therapy. They help teach you how to shift your emotional state when you feel it. Some of these machines, such as the Apollo, provide touch therapy that calms your nervous system by simply sending silent, soothing vibrations to it. These vibrations send information to your nervous system that you are in a safe place so it can move into the rest and digest mode.
24. Increasing Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Heart rate variability is the measure of the time interval between heartbeats. It’s a good indicator of how well your nervous system is functioning. There are various tools to measure HRV and give you more control over your subconscious feedback, helping you shift into a hyper-focused flow state. What can you use it for? Tracking your HRV can be helpful, e.g. to make smart decisions about your health, prevent burnout from stress, or avoid overtraining. These machines help track anything from heart rate variability to calories!
New advancements in technology have given rise to a new field of study known as neurofeedback. This is a non-invasive way of measuring and training the nervous system. It is a procedure that measures brainwaves and provides the patient with real-time feedback about how the brain is functioning.
It may help those with dysregulated brains by rewiring circuits and growing neural connectivity that creates safety and a feeling of centredness. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment often uses neurofeedback. It focuses on changing the way the brain responds to different stimuli through EEG (electro-encephalogram) machines.
26. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
EMDR is an eight-phase psychotherapy treatment that helps people heal from emotional distress in their lives. EMDR helps access traumatic memories and create new, adaptive memories to eliminate emotional dysregulation. How exactly does it work? The patient, after the initial preparation, attends to emotionally difficult emotions while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus, such as therapist-directed lateral eye movements.
27. Omega 3
The nervous system is responsible for sending signals throughout the body, and omega 3 fatty acids are essential for proper nervous system function. These fatty acids help to insulate nerve cells and protect them from damage. Omega-3 fatty acids are full of DHA and EPA, which are essential for developing the nervous system. They are beneficial in improving nerve transmission as well as proper neuron function.
You can find them mostly in fish and seafood (especially cold-water fat fish), nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts), and plant oils (flaxseed oil, soybean oil). Remember to add some of those to your daily diet!
Magnesium is one of the essential minerals for a healthy nervous system. Magnesium induces a relaxation response. When you are deficient in magnesium, it may inhibit several neurotransmitters that support signal transmission between nerves, which can result in frequent headaches, lack of energy, sleep problems, leg cramps, higher irritability level, or trembling eyes and hands.
To provide the body with the right amount of magnesium, eat a daily portion of: buckwheat groats, almonds, oatmeal, pumpkin seeds, peas or chickpeas. You can also consider supplementation. Magnesium also needs vitamin 6 to be properly absorbed.
GABA is an amino acid naturally produced in the body. It is often called “the natural Valium.” GABA is the brain’s inhibitory neurotransmitter and helps with a relaxed mood and better cognitive function. It lowers fear and anxiety levels, alleviates negative stress effects, enhances concentration, and can even help with sleeping problems. When levels of GABA are low, it can lead to feeling nervous or anxious. This can make it difficult to concentrate or sleep.
GABA can be found in some fermented foods, such as natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers or beets, or beetroot sourdough.
30. B vitamins
B vitamins are essential nutrients that play a role in many different functions in the body. Perhaps most importantly, B vitamins are necessary for proper nervous system function. They help to produce neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending signals between cells. B-vitamins can affect the nervous system if depleted, causing pins and needles or numbness in the body. B-12 specifically is essential for protecting nerve coverings.
The best sources of vitamin B-vitamins are nuts and seeds, beans, eggs, dairy products, poultry, bananas, peaches, and spinach. There is a large selection of vitamin B supplements but remember to discuss it firsly with your primary care physician.
L-theanine is an amino acid naturally occurring in tea leaves that promotes relaxation and increases cognitive function simultaneously. L-theanine can be found in matcha and green tea. If you deal with sleep problems, L-theanine might be helpful. It increases serotonin, dopamine and GABA levels, which are responsible for good mood and decreasing fear and anxiety levels. It makes it easier to slow down your mental processes, relax, and fall asleep.
32. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort is a popular herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. Today, it is best known for its ability to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression. St. John’s Wort is a brain adaptogen and tonic for the nervous system. It has positive therapeutic potential, nourishing and energizing the nervous system. This herb can be used both internally and topically. Thanks to its healing properties, it is used in mild and moderate depression treatment.
Your nervous system is responsible for transmitting signals throughout your body, and it needs electrolytes to function properly. Nerves cannot function properly without a proper balance of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These electrolytes allow adequate muscle contraction, heart contractions, and nerve signaling. Coconut water, specifically, is an excellent source of electrolytes. If you don’t live in a place where coconut trees grow above your head, don’t worry! Coconut water is widely exported and can be bought in many other places in the world.
34. Blood sugar balance
Maintaining a healthy blood sugar balance is essential for overall health and well-being. When blood sugar levels are too high or too low, it can have a major impact on the nervous system. Blood sugar spikes are followed by fatigue, anxiety, and depressive feelings. Keeping blood sugar balanced by monitoring your blood sugar levels is essential in regulating mood and supporting dysregulation. This can be achieved through blood sugar monitoring devices.
There are several things that you can do to prevent blood sugar spikes, such as a low-carb and low-sugar diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying hydrated and active.
Stress can be good for the body! Fasting is a practice that has been used for centuries to promote physical and spiritual health. By abstaining from food and drink for a period of time, the body is able to rest and heal. Fasting can be a powerful way to regulate a dysregulated nervous system and improve mental clarity and focus. This type of stress (hormesis) stimulates the body to adapt and become stronger. Some studies have shown that fasting can significantly activate your parasymphatetic nervous system and calm your symphatetic nervous system, which means activation of the rest and digest mode and suppression of the flight or fight mechanism.
36. High-quality nutrition, avoiding processed food and eating lots of fermented food
Nutrition is essential for the proper development and functioning of the nervous system. The nervous system requires an abundance of vitamins and minerals. That’s why it is important to eat whole, unprocessed foods. Healthy fats are also responsible for providing insulation. There is also research on eating fermented foods for a happier gut. Next time you go grocery shopping, check the quality of the products you buy so they can support your health. There are many apps that can help you with that – you simply scan the barcodes of the products to receive detailed information about their ingredients and quality.
37. Caffeine & Yerba Mate
Caffeine can be used as a tool. It acts as a stimulant, helping to keep people awake and alert. Studies have shown that yerba mate can improve mental clarity, boost energy levels, and even help to protect against disease. When used in small quantities, it can provide beneficial effects such as more energy and focus, but too much can induce anxiety and put us on edge by activating fight or flight mode. Try to avoid drinking coffee or other stimulating drinks in the evening so they won’t affect your sleep.
38. Limit alcohol consumption
Alcohol consumption can have a number of short- and long-term effects on the human body. In the short term, it can impair cognitive function and motor skills, and in large quantities can lead to vomiting, unconsciousness, and even death. Alcohol impairs the central nervous system by preventing the brain receptors from communicating correctly. Over a more extended period, alcohol may cause damage to the nervous system, which manifests as problems balancing, slower reaction time, confusion, and decreased alertness.
Although moderate drinking may offer some health benefits, the risks of excessive drinking far outweigh any potential benefits. When consumed in moderation, alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle; when abused, however, it can ruin lives.
39. Books and resources
- The Body Keeps the Score
The Body Keeps the Score is a book written by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma that helps people understand how trauma reshapes the body and brain, changing the ability to experience pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. There are many healing modalities discussed, including neurofeedback, yoga, and meditation.
- Waking the Tiger
Waking the Tiger, by the therapist Peter Levine, is a book that describes the decisive steps our bodies take to respond to life events that may be overwhelming. It helps the reader with a series of exercises to focus on the bodily sensations, helping heal trauma.
- Healing Developmental Trauma
Healing Developmental Trauma, written by Lawerence Heller, is a practical guide to help the reader heal and move past their childhood trauma. It uses somatic-based psychotherapy and neuroscience to regulate the nervous system and help with low self-esteem, shame, and self-judgment.
For centuries, the Indian herb ashwagandha has been used to support a variety of health concerns. It is a medicinal herb that can relieve anxiety and stress, consequently improving the nervous system’s strength. Since it is an adaptogen, it helps the body adapt to stressors. Research findings suggest that it may be helpful with insomnia and anxiety treatments, improve cognitive functions, and lower blood sugar. Today, ashwagandha is available in a variety of forms, including capsules, powders, and tinctures.
Rhodiola rosea is an herb that has been used in traditional medicine systems. It grows in cold regions of Europe and Asia. Today, it is known to have a wide range of health benefits, including the ability to support the nervous system. Studies show that it may help regulate emotions, mood, and anxiety by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity. In addition to its nervous system benefits, Rhodiola is also known to boost energy levels, enhance cognitive function, and reduce inflammation.
Ginseng is a plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. The active ingredients in ginseng are thought to be beneficial for the nervous system. It is an adaptogenic herb that helps the body adapt to mental and physical stressors. It has many benefits, including treating depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue syndrome. The antioxidants that it contains may reduce inflammation. If you are considering taking ginseng, it is best to speak with a healthcare professional first to ensure it is right for you.
- Oat straw
Oatstraw extract is a “hug for your nervous system.” It helps restore a dysregulated nervous system, as it is a nervine herb. Oatstraw is high in B vitamins, which can aid in exhaustion, depression, anxiety, poor concentration, and memory. It may also reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. While oat straw can be consumed in many forms, including tea and capsules, the most effective way to use it is in a tincture or extract. These concentrated forms allow the body to more easily absorb the nutrients in oat straw and provide the most benefit for nervous system health.
- Chamomile tea
Chamomile is used to calm the nerves and to help anxiety. Studies show that chamomile positively affects central nervous system functioning by changing alpha-wave activity in the brain, which promotes relaxation. It is also used as a natural remedy for stomach upset and indigestion. In addition to its calming effects, chamomile tea is also a source of antioxidants, which can help to protect cells from damage and boost the immune system. Having troubles with falling asleep? A cup of chamomile tea might help you with that!
- Green tea and Matcha
Green tea contains L-theanine, which can increase dopamine and serotonin levels. These have a positive effect on mood and stress. Green tea is packed with antioxidants, which can benefit the autonomic nervous system and help increase alertness, concentration, and focus! Many people find that matcha provides a more balanced energy boost than coffee or other caffeinated beverages. If you want to limit your daily amount of coffee, try switching to green tea or matcha and getting some extra energy from them.
43. Setting boundaries
By setting boundaries, you protect yourself and take care of your needs. They are also crucial for building healthy relationships with other people. If your boundaries are being constantly crossed by other people, you will likely have less energy than usual and probably feel overwhelmed. You may have difficulty regulating emotions when your energy is not at its highest. Therefore, it is vital to manage it well by setting boundaries.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for centuries. The basic principle behind acupuncture is that there are energy lines running through the body, and that illness or pain can be caused by a blockage in these energy lines. This procedure involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points along these energy lines in order to restore balance and health. Acupuncture can reset the nervous system by opening the meridians within the body to promote energy and blood flow. It can induce the parasympathetic state by promoting relaxation. Depending on the circumstances, it may also assist you with some health issues such as migrens, spine diseases, or degenerative joint diseases.
45. Build healthy relationships
Healthy relationships where we can show our true selves are one of the most healing practices! They are shown to impact healing, stress reduction, and overall health. Having a true friend that we can talk to when life gets difficult is priceless and helps us regulate our emotions. Studies show that maintaining a good, healthy relationship can even prolong life!
46. Heal your attachment style
Attachment style is learned in childhood and carried into adulthood. It’s based on our early experiences with caretakers and how they respond to our needs. When our needs were met consistently and lovingly, we develop a secure attachment style. If our needs were inconsistently met or we were neglected, we develop an insecure attachment style. Attachment trauma from childhood plays a significant role in our functioning in relationships as adults. For example, if our father abandoned us, we may be constantly anxious, believing our partner will do the same to us. If you notice such patterns in your life, it might be a good idea to consider working on them in therapy.
What are the best practices to heal a dysregulated nervous system?
To summarize, the best way to heal a dysregulated nervous system depends on your unique sensitivity and level of dysregulation. You can start by incorporating simple lifestyle practices that support your regulation, or you can get the support of a therapist or join The Nervous System Solution, our signature program for people with a sensitive nervous system.
Trauma and nervous system dysregulation may cause multiple health issues, so it is crucial to find your path to healing. If you’d like to explore how we can help you through our programs, join our list and you’ll be the first to know when we open doors. In the meantime, take our quiz to find out which flowerpot personality type—orchid, tulip, dandelion—you are.