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Last updated on July 17th, 2024 at 03:06 am

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for helping you feel calm and relaxed. It opposes the sympathetic nervous system responsible for stress and activity. 

Usually, these two systems remain in balance or equilibrium. However, lifestyle factors and life events can cause the sympathetic to dominate the parasympathetic, leading to declining mood, feeling “always on,” and poor sleep. 

This post explores how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and how it calms you down. By the end of it, you should understand what you need to do to relax and switch off from the world. 

Quick Ways to Calm Your Nervous System

Humanity has known about natural ways to calm the nervous system since time immemorial. Many of these are things you can do instantly, including:


Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System: Step by Step

The idea that you can “reset” the parasympathetic nervous system is a myth. However, you can reduce your fight or flight system’s activity over time. 

The most common signs this aspect of the autonomic nervous system is overactive include: 

There is no set way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or the vagus nerve. The best approach is to do what works for you. 

Here are some step-by-step ideas that you might want to try. 

Step 1: Go Somewhere Quiet And Comfortable

Loud noises and intense environments are unlikely to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Therefore, go somewhere quiet where you are safe and alone. An empty room or a space at the bottom of the garden is perfect. 

Step 2: Get Into A Comfortable Position

Next, adopt a comfortable pose. Sit in a chair or lie down to be safe for the next steps. 

Step 3: Breathe Deeply

Start by breathing deeply. Research shows that deep breathing lowers stress and anxiety significantly. 

Step 4: Progressively Relax Your Muscles

Next, progressively relax your muscles. Many ancient traditions begin by feeling the tension leave the feet and then working up the body in small steps until the top of the head. The purpose is to reduce the activity of every muscle in your body. 

Step 5: Engage In Mindfulness

During these exercises, engage in mindfulness. Focus on the present, paying close attention to the breath and bodily sensations. If you have thoughts, let them pass through without judgment. 

Step 6: Be Grateful

Practice being as grateful as possible for what you have in your life. Expressing gratitude is stress-relieving and makes it easier to access positive emotions. 

Step 7: Keep Practicing

The more you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the more likely you are to experience feelings of calmness and satisfaction during the week. 

As you continue these practices, feel free to add relaxing music, sounds, and aromatherapy. You can also try visualization, which involves imagining a calming scene, or physical movements, such as yoga or tai chi, which may benefit some people. 

Avoid stimulants, like coffee, before your practice. These can make you feel jittery


Lifestyle Practices And Habits To Enhance Parasympathetic Activation

Besides specific practices, you can also engage in various lifestyle changes and habits to improve parasympathetic activation. These include:

Understanding the Role of Parasympathetic Activation

The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the “autonomic” nervous system and is responsible for many body systems you don’t need to control consciously. While the sympathetic nervous system makes you feel stressed and puts you in “fight or flight” mode when danger arises, the parasympathetic nervous system makes you feel relaxed and puts you in a “rest and digest” state. 

Ideally, these two systems should balance each other: you should feel active and stressed when in danger and calm otherwise. This equilibrium ensures you can function optimally. 

The parasympathetic nervous system is associated strongly with metabolic rest. For instance, it increases the rate of digestion and diverts energy to accessing nutrients from food. It also relaxes the muscles that control when you pee or poop, lowers your heart rate, and tightens the airways to your lungs, reducing the work required at rest. 

The evolutionary purpose of this system is to reduce energy expenditure and increase access to nutrients. It activates all the parts of the body it can’t afford to divert energy to during times of danger. 


What Happens During Parasympathetic Activation?

During parasympathetic activation, you may notice: 

However, many people live with overactive sympathetic nervous systems. Sedentary lifestyles, work pressures, poor-quality food, and artificial lighting late at night can all cause this part of the autonomic nervous system to go into overdrive, preventing relaxation and a sense of well-being, which, in turn, leads to distress. 

Now You Are Ready To Activate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Reading this, you should now be ready to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. The best approach is to find a set of activities that work for you. That could be cuddling up with a furry friend or exercising, and then taking a cold shower. Keep experimenting until you find something that works.

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