Stress and anxiety were symptoms that affected our bodies even before Corona. But especially since the world is a bit upside down, our nervous system is confronted with extreme challenges. Torn out of our usual daily routine, our system finds itself in an exceptional situation, even though Corona has been with us for almost a year now. In my case, this has the effect of restlessness and sleep problems. If you feel the same way and find it difficult to calm down and relax, then I have 6 tips for you in the following post, how you can calm your nervous system.
*(Warning! I am not a specialist. This article was written in consultation with Rolfer and alternative practitioner Susan Michel. Everyone can use these tips as needed, but it is important to get professional help if you notice that you feel overwhelmed with the situation alone. For this purpose, I have linked you to contact and counseling centers throughout Germany at the end of this article).
Our autonomic nervous system can be divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic mode is activated when we are in action, for example when we are stressed, when we have to concentrate, are physically active or in danger. On the other hand, the parasympathetic mode is activated when we relax. For example, when we feel safe and comfortable, when we rest, go to sleep, and when we enjoy pleasant contact with our friends.
Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are part of the flowing rhythm of tension and relaxation that is inherent in all life.
While the sympathetic mode is associated with increased inner tension, mobilizing our energy to act quickly and with focus (which can also be experienced as inner nervousness), the parasympathetic mode manifests itself through increased relaxation in the body. Breathing becomes deeper and slower, the heartbeat calms down, digestion, which was stopped in sympathetic mode, resumes and the immune system is able to work fully again.
In the best case, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are in balance and are thus activated according to need and situation. Figuratively, the two modes can be seen as the accelerator and brake pedal, whereby you can either get into activity and ready to perform or relaxation and rest, depending on the phase of your life. When the sympathetic nervous system is active, the parasympathetic nervous system is shut down and vice versa.
If you keep your gas pedal permanently pressed, this leads to nervousness and restlessness in the body.
In our performance-oriented society it was already the case before Corona that the sympathetic mode of the autonomic nervous system was more stressed than its parasympathetic counterpart. But mainly because of the current situation, you and I find it even more difficult to get into relaxation phases. Not least because work and free time in the home office seem to blur into one another.
In the following I have 6 tips to calm your nervous system. Here you have the possibility to activate your parasympathetic nervous system to invite more calmness into your system.
1. breath regulation// meditation
Sounds banal at first, but it can work wonders. Especially diaphragmatic breathing, where you breathe deeply into your belly, helps you to activate your vagus nerve - the largest nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system - and thus to relax.
Lie on your yoga mat or couch (depending on how soft it is). It is advisable not to lie too softly, so that you can feel your body weight on the mat and notice how this can be released onto the couch or the floor when you exhale. When inhaling, make sure to breathe deeply into your abdomen - so that your abdominal wall curves upwards. The exhalation should be as long and slow as possible. Try to let your sternum sink and your body weight sink into the support so that the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and you can come to rest.
You can also regulate your breathing through meditation to help you relax.
Who doesn't know this. The thoughts are racing and they just don't want to stop causing unrest in our head. Most of the time this nervousness is accompanied by an increased pulse rate and an increased breathing rate. Meditation can help you to bring order into your thoughts in order to regulate your breath. Sit comfortably on a yoga block or meditation cushion. Feel your ischial tuberosities on your sitting surface and extend your spine upward over the top of your head. With each inhalation, grow up your spine towards the crown of your head as you ground your ischial tuberosities more and more. With each exhalation sink deeper into your body and try to release points of tension.
You can meditate for yourself by trying to focus on your breathing again and again and let thoughts that arise pass by like clouds in front of your inner eye. Or you can do a guided meditation, which is especially easy for beginners.
In our Kale&Cake Podcast you will find four guided meditations with Sinah. This way you can build your own meditation practice in the long run. There are also many apps that you can use to do guided meditations. For example, Sinah and I like to meditate with the Deepack Chopra app.
2. make body parts heavy
If you find that it does you good to let your body get heavy to get into a state of relaxation, then you can take this method even further with the following tips.
To do this, lie back on your yoga mat or couch. Now make sure that with your exhalation you let your shoulders, pelvis and heels sink into the mat and become heavy at these points. With each exhalation, transfer your body weight to the floor or couch so that you can release the tension in your body. As you exhale, also make sure to drop your abdomen so that you can let your breathing flow.
Try to concentrate on your head separately. Let it become heavy for the time being and imagine how your brain sinks backwards in your skull. The idea is to create volume in your head. To do this, breathe into your temples and feel like you are creating space in your head as you inhale. On the exhalation let your eyes sink into the sockets. On your long and slow exhalation, also relax your jaw and let your tongue soften. If, like me, you have trouble falling asleep, it's a good idea to do this exercise in bed.
3. yoga practice
Sometimes you feel so energized that it's hard to relax and let go. If you feel too overwrought to just lie on your mat or couch and regulate your system with breathing exercises, it's recommended to do a physically demanding yoga practice beforehand.
By physically challenging your body and activating your muscles, you may find it easier to come to rest afterwards, letting go of excess tension in your body.
If you don't have time for an entire yoga practice, then reverse poses such as Viparita Karani or Balasana (child pose) are also recommended to relax the nervous system. For more information on the harmonizing effect of inverted postures, there is also an exciting article that you can find here.
If you would like to sign up for one of our classes right now, you can access our class schedule and video library here.
4. exercise to activate the vagus nerve
If you find diaphragmatic breathing difficult and would like to activate the vagus nerve more specifically to help you relax, you can do the following exercise.
The "half" salamander - for this take a comfortable position in a seated position.
- Look to the right without turning your head.
- Without changing the position of your eyes, tilt your head to the right so that your right ear is closer to your right shoulder. Important! Do not lift your shoulder to bring it closer to your ear.
- Hold the head in this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Bring your head back to the center and look straight ahead with your eyes again.
- Repeat the exercise to the left side in the same way (first look to the left, then tilt your head to the left).
In the second variation of the "half" salamander, you repeat the first variation with a modification. Instead of your eyes looking in the same direction as you tilt your head, they now look in the opposite direction. That is, when you tilt your head to the right, your eyes look to the left and vice versa. Perform the second variation of the "half" salamander also once to the right side (eyes look to the left) and to the left side (eyes look to the right). Hold the head in this position on both sides for 30 to 60 seconds.
5. massage feet with hot sesame oil
Although we stand and walk on our feet every day, these faithful companions are often neglected in care and taken for granted. If you want to do something good not only for your parasympathetic nervous system but also for your feet, then this relaxing foot massage is recommended. It is a sub-form of the Abhayanga massage (full body oil synchronous massage), which is most commonly used in Ayurveda.
Heat sesame oil or ghee to body temperature for the massage. Then spread the oil generously over your feet. Massage the oil in circular motions into your ankle and then into each of your toe joints. Then slide your index finger into each toe joint in turn. Move it back and forth vigorously. Then massage the oil into the soles of your feet and the tops of your feet with both hands at the same time. Vary the intensity of the pressure here, depending on what feels good to you. Finish the massage with slow, sweeping movements.
Rolfing is a holistic body therapy approach developed in the 1950s by Dr. Ida Rolf in the USA. It involves working with the body's fascial network, among other things, to align the body with the ideal of the vertical line in gravity, relieving restrictions on movement. It also alleviates stress conditions that arise in the body through compensations and habitual postures to help your system find relaxation again.
Susan Michel is leading the yoga therapy training at Kale&Cake, which will take place again on February 20th. If you would like to learn more about her work as a Rolfer, or if you are interested in scheduling a Rolfing session with her yourself, please visit her website here. Especially if you feel that you are not able to regulate your autonomic nervous system yourself, Rolfing can be a good method to get external support.
Book your lesson with us!
If you need someone to talk to or realise that you cannot cope with your situation alone, you can turn to these counselling centres:
- Telephone counselling - anonymous counselling (in person, on the phone, in chat or by email)// 24 hours a day, free of charge from all over Germany// Tel: 0800 - 111 0 111 (Protestant) or 0800 - 111 0 222 (Catholic) // www.telefonseelsorge.de
- Information telephone depression for affected persons and relatives// Tel: 0800 - 334 4 533 // www.kompetenznetz-depression.de
- Emergency telephone suicide Germany// Tel: 030 - 873 0 111 // www.krisen-intervention.de
- In addition, you will find over www.psychnet.de Psychiatric emergency rooms throughout Germany that you can visit in an emergency.
Location-specific in Munich:
- Psychiatric Crisis Service // Plinganserstrasse 33, 81369 Munich // Tel: 0810 - 655 3 000
- Crisis Outpatient Clinic of the Atriumhaus // Bavariastraße 11 // Tel: 089 - 76 78 0
- Addiction Hotline Munich // 089 - 28 28 22
- The Ark (emergency telephone for suicidal persons) // Tel: 089 - 33 40 41
Written by: Raphaela Baumgartner and Lili Borgwardt
All photos are by Susanne Schramke: https://susanneschramke.com