What is the Nervous System?
By Kaleigh Carter
The nervous system is essentially the command center of the body.
It controls many of your body’s functions, from the conscious (like moving, learning, etc) to the unconscious (breathing patterns, heartbeats, sleep, healing, memory, feelings).
You could think of it like a highway running through your body, connecting nerves, cells, glands, and muscles, and sending messages from the nerves to these other parts of your body. The nervous system is responsible for how you experience and interpret your environment.
How does it affect me?
When your nervous system is regulated, you feel connected, present, safe.
Your nervous system can become dysregulated.
When it’s dysregulated you may feel: overwhelmed, defensive, restless, anxious, panicked, angry, or shutdown, numb, sleepy, spacy, withdrawn, depressed.
You’ve probably heard of fight/flight and freeze states. These are describing different states of the nervous system that we go into in response to external stimuli.
A balanced and flexible nervous system moves through these various states all throughout the day in response to external triggers or internal stimuli. However, it is able to return to a regulated and connected state.
What does that look like?
For example, you hear a pop outside your house and for a split second it sounds like a gunshot. You jump. Your pulse races. You feel fear. You may want to run away or hide. You realize it was a car and take a deep breath. Your pulse begins to slow, and you return to your activity. Your nervous system responded to keep you safe. Had it been a gunshot, that shot of adrenaline would have allowed your body to move into the energy of fight or flight to protect you. But since it wasn’t, it’s important that you were able to return to a regulated state and go about your day.
But sometimes we can get stuck.
When we get stuck, we aren’t able to feel connected, present, joyful.
We can’t learn.
How can we regulate our nervous systems?
There are many tools to help bring your nervous system back into a place of regulation.
One of my favorites is very simple and you can do it anywhere. It’s a simple way of controlling your breath that I’ve found is very effective at soothing the mind and body.
Simply get into a comfortable place. Breathe in to a count of 4. Breath out to a count of 8. The slow exhale tells your body you are safe. If you can’t make it to that an 8 second exhale, try doing 3 in and 6 out; just keep the ratio the same.
We want to hear from you!
Do you know when your nervous system is dysregulated? What are your signs? Do you have tools to come back into that balanced and connected state?
Two easy ways to soothe your nervous system? Co-regulate with others and focus on your breath. Join a Community Meditation session to do both of these things! Learn more here.
Watch this video explaining the function of the Autonomic Nervous System, from the Polyvagal Institute.