When you think about stress and anxiety, you probably think about it in the details—skin breaking out, pounds adding on, mind racing, and more. But how often do you think about where it’s really coming from? And by that, I don’t mean the urgent, late-night email from your boss. The key to calm actually lies in your central nervous system. That’s where it all happens. Relax, and you’ll put your mind and body at ease. I won’t hammer you with the effects of stress (but if you want a refresher, here are five things stress does to your body). What you really need to know is how to manage it—how to calm your nervous system to stop stress in its tracks.
Scroll through for four proven ways to calm your nervous system and put an end to the damaging effects of stress and anxiety.
When asked how many hours of sleep we get, many of us want to say eight. However, very few of us actually do. Women need at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night to reset and recharge the nervous system. Insufficient sleep, meaning less than six hours per night, is detrimental to our circadian rhythm. Not only do we feel groggy, fatigued and unfocused, but also, our metabolism suffers and may cause us to store fat rather than burning it. Studies have proven that catching up on sleep for two nights in a row (meaning sleeping eight to 10 hours) can improve insulin sensitivity, bring your blood sugar levels back to the normal range and reverse the negative effects of not sleeping enough during the week.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is an additive ingredient in processed and fast-food that overexcites the nervous system and can make you feel agitated and tired post-meal. MSG is composed of part contaminants and manufactured chemicals and part glutamate (a form of glutamic acid). Glutamate is essential for cognitive function; it acts as a stimulant and signals the messengers in our brain cells to communicate. However, free and bound glutamate ingested in abundance, such as in foods with MSG, can overexcite the nervous system and cause headaches, migraines, and inflammation. Be conscious of the food that you eat at restaurants or fast-food places, as MSG is often a hidden ingredient in take-out food.
Recent studies suggest that meditation decreases stress levels while increasing happiness and compassion. Tangible health benefits include improved immunity, lower inflammation and decreased pain. Brain-imaging studies show meditation increases gray matter, sharpens attention, and improves memory. Meditation can be as simple as deep breathing exercises, yoga or just a second to relax and close your eyes in a quiet place. Not sure you can get into meditation? Try starting with an app, like OMG I Can Meditate! (free).
If you haven’t heard of this health phenomenon, then listen up. Float therapy is the real deal. As you lie back in your private float pod, you float weightlessly, buoyed by the salts. The body-temperature water relaxes your sense of touch. The lights and sounds fade. Your heartbeat and breathing slow, your body unwinds and your mind opens. Eliminating your sensory overload allows your brain to drift into the half-awake, half-dreaming Theta state, where meditation and creativity flourish. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop, while the feel-good dopamine hormone rises. Flotation therapy has proven to calm stress, relieve physical pain, ease emotional and sleep-related disorders, and improve athletic performance.
Have you tried float therapy or meditation? Share your experiences in the comments below.