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How to Regulate The Nervous System and Relax The Body

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC, LPC

Did you know that chronic stress can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health? In order for the body to thrive, it needs to be able to deal with stress in healthy and adaptive ways that ultimately allow the body to recover. You may be asking what is classified as chronic stress? Chronic stress is a continuous feeling of pressure and overwhelms stemming from both professional, personal, and even internal responsibilities and expectations. When chronic stress is experienced, you may notice symptoms such as brain fog, lack of motivation, weakness, difficulty sleeping, aches and pains, and even social isolation. Though chronic stress feels almost impossible to avoid given current circumstances, it is essential that it is kept under control to prevent psychical and mental damage. One of the best ways to manage chronic stress is by regulating your nervous system through specific and easy-to-do techniques like breathing, grounding, and progressive muscle relaxation, among many others. As you continue reading, you will find helpful tips and techniques to ensure that your nervous system is regulated. But first…

What Is the Function of the Nervous System? 

The primary function of the nervous system is to transmit signals to the brain and throughout the body. The nervous system controls our ability as human beings to taste, touch, feel, think, and breathe, among many other functions. The nervous system also keeps us protected through a response known as fight, flight, and freeze. Have you ever felt a sense of panic or fear in a situation? Maybe you did not brake fast enough and you almost hit the bumper of the car in front of you and you suddenly feel overcome with physical sensations like a pounding heart rate, clammy hands, and shallow breathing. This is a sign that your nervous system has recognized a threat and has become activated. When this happens in a truly threatening or dangerous situation, it is considered adaptive or useful; however, when this same response happens as a result of chronic stress, it is no longer adaptive or effective and instead can be highly detrimental. 

Techniques That Regulate the Nervous System 

When the nervous system becomes overburdened with chronic stress, it doesn’t function effectively. Things like a deadline at work or a homework assignment can cause our nervous system to jump into fight-flight or freeze as a response. Chronic stress can prevent you from performing your best mentally or physically and can greatly impact motivation, making it difficult to carry out daily yet essential tasks. There are ways to reset and regulate the nervous system, however, so that the body itself can relax and you can begin to function in more normal and balanced space. These include:

Deep Breathing: 

This is a simple but effective way to calm your nervous system almost instantaneously. It involves deep breathing in through your nose and out slowly out through your mouth at least three times. Deep breathing is powerful because it gets oxygen steadily flowing to the brain. It is important to note, however, that if the goal is to relax the body, the exhale should be longer than the inhale.


This strategy utilizes our five senses to connect to the present moment. The actual act of grounding involves placing your bare feet on the ground and tuning into the experience. A more general way to implement grounding is simply to pay close attention to what you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel. When we are fully present in the moment, it becomes very difficult for the anxiety response to continue.  

Progressive Muscle Relaxation:

This particular technique helps to relax different muscle groups with techniques such as tensing and relaxing in a contrasting manner. This ultimately teaches you to recognize when your muscles are tense, thus making you consciously relax and release them. When we create a less tense, more relaxed physical body, our brain and nervous systems receive the message that it is safe. 

 Other great ways to calm and regulate the nervous system include listening to music, walking in nature, and taking a warm aromatherapy bath with soothing oils like lavender and peppermint. Simply googling any of the above terms or ways to regulate the nervous system will provide you with a plethora of tools and techniques to help manage your own stress. 

Final Thoughts 

Chronic stress can be detrimental to your physical and mental health; however, by incorporating nervous system regulatory techniques, you can limit chronic stress’s impact on the entire body and allow yourself to feel more internally balanced in spite of external stressors.

If you or someone you know feels chronically stressed or overwhelmed and would like to learn tools to regulate the nervous system, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling to get paired with a Chicago counselor today!

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