Mentally Activating Your Nerve System
Welcome to this week's blog. Recently, we have been going over ways to nourish the nervous system:
- Physical Activation
- Mental Activation
- Reducing Mechanical Distortion
Last week, we covered the first one: Physically activating/nourishing the nerve system.
This week, we are going to cover some ways to mentally nourish your nerve system, specifically:
- The Autonomic
- The Frontal Lobes of the Brain
Why Deal With The Autonomic Nerve System?
If you recall, the autonomic portion of our nervous system is responsible for all of the "automatic" aspects of our body, things like breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, etc.
It is broken down into two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. You might recall learning about this in school as the fight or flight response. Essentially, the sympathetic portion is responsible for amping things up when we perceive or are exposed to danger, and the parasympathetic's job is to calm things down once we are safe.
The problem is when the sympathetic system stays on all the time; this is called sympathetic dominance. If this is allowed to continue, a lot of things begin to breakdown. As a result, you are left vulnerable to everything from digestive issues to high blood pressure! The stresses and strains of today's fast paced high drive society can invite this all too easily. Getting the autonomic nerve system back in sync can literally be life saving.
This One Is Easy!
Thankfully, activating your parasympathetic nervous system (and automatically deactivating your sympathetic system and thus reducing sympathetic dominance) is just a breath away!
Deep breathing practices have been around for a long time and most of us, at one point or another, have been on the receiving end of the phrase "just take a breath." There is something intuitive, calming, and healthy about slowing down our breathing. Here is a great article on the topic from the University of Washington Medicine.
The bottom line from the author on how to start is this:
- Breathe from your stomach, pushing your stomach out each time you inhale.
- Take longer breaths, counting to at least three for each inhalation and exhalation.
- Keep doing this, even though it may feel uncomfortable at first. After a while, you will start to notice your body feeling more relaxed.
- Noticing the differences for yourself in how your body feels is more powerful than anyone describing it to you.
At a minimum, try this approach when you are feeling stressed. To really make it work for you, find a time or two daily to practice this, regardless of how you are feeling at the moment. Your heart and many other systems will thank you!
Why Deal With The Frontal Lobes?
The frontal lobes are the area in the front of your brain that are responsible for what is called "executive function." Executive function, in a nutshell, allows you to "get things done." According to Web MD, executive function lets you:
- Manage time
- Pay attention
- Switch focus
- Plan and organize
- Remember details
- Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
- Do things based on your experience
When it goes wrong, it can impact your ability to:
- Work or go to school
- Do things independently
- Maintain relationships
A breakdown of the frontal lobes, and therefore executive function, can be seen in disease states (post stroke, Alzheimer's) and in some diagnosed conditions like ADD. I personally believe that it can be lost or diminished due to the overwhelming pace of modern life (see the recent post on Margin), and the over-stimulation and reliance on electronic devices.
This One Takes A Little Work!
The science and research on what it takes to keep the brain healthy and functioning is still young, and undoubtedly will change and grow as time goes on. However, like we discussed in earlier posts, the nervous system is a learning machine. It likes novelty and interaction, and, like the muscles, it can grow and strengthen with use or atrophy when ignored.
Here is a list of things to begin to incorporate into your life, in order to stimulate your frontal lobes and executive function:
- Listen to music
- Read a paper book (non-tablet)
- Listen for double meanings, puns, and jokes
- Summarize, or give the gist of, an article you read to someone else
- Meet new people
- Go to an art museum
- Do mazes, word searches, cross-word puzzles, and Sudoku
- Write (not type) a letter
- Look for patterns in architecture, pictures, sentences
- Spelling lists
- Go through family photos and name people
- Make up and tell stories
- Memorize a poem, passage of scripture or funny story
- Play board games (not computer) and card games
- Take a class
- Take a different route to work, the grocery store or church
- Do math in your head
- Learn a new language or instrument
- Go someplace new, and when you get home draw a map of how you got there or the "layout" of the location
I hope you have been enjoying this series on getting back to basics on building a healthy lifestyle. Next time, we will conclude it with how to reduce mechanical stress on the nerve system.
Yours in Health,