Calming Your Brain And Body

When we feel physical discomfort, it’s a signal to our bodies to take action, like when you touch a hot stove and quickly pull your hand back. While an immediate reaction to emotional discomfort may not be as visible, it is registered by the body as well.

Some mental discomfort is inevitable because we evolved into feeling beings emotionally invested in others and experience distress when we or they are harmed, rejected, or hurt. A car recklessly cuts in front of you, a snarky remark by your spouse, or a thought worrying how you’re going to pay for the new transmission can be interpreted as a threat by your brain which sounds the alarm and your body reacts accordingly.

When this happens, epinephrine increases your heart rate so you can move fast. Norepinephrine sends blood to large muscle groups and the bronchioles of your lungs dilate as well as your pupils. Cortisol is released suppressing your immune system to reduce inflammation from wounds.  Your emotions intensify, and, as limbic and endocrine activation increases, the executive functioning of your brain decreases.

In the harsh world of our evolving ancestors, this physical chain of reactions to serious threats helped our species survive.  However, with the constant, low-grade stressors of our pedal-to-the-metal society, this sometimes almost constant response creates unhealthy conditions for the mind and body with lasting consequences.

Back when most humans died around middle age, the benefits of such activation outweighed the long-term costs. But today, with people living well beyond, the cumulative damage of chronically over stimulating this system leads to gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine problems with the greatest impact usually being seen on psychological well being as increased anxiety and depressed mood.

Most bodily systems and their responses are regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which operates mostly below consciousness. The ANS has three wings: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS – fight or flight); the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS – rest and digest); and the enteric nervous system (regulates the gastrointestinal system).

The PNS and SNS evolved hand in hand to keep us alive.  We need them both.  However, if your SNS were surgically disconnected, you’d live.  If your PNS were disconnected, you couldn’t survive.  Just like you can’t drive a car by stomping on the gas and the brake at the same time, it’s best when the SNS, the gas pedal, and the PNS, the brakes, work together in balance.

In his book, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, Rick Hanson suggests that we strive to exist predominantly in a baseline state parasympathetic arousal of calm peacefulness with mild SNS activation for enthusiasm, vitality, wholesome passions, and occasional spikes to deal with demanding situations.  “This is your best-odds prescription for a long, productive, happy life.  Of course, it takes practice.” he writes.

The “Path Of Practice” is what Hanson refers to as “the law of little things,”:

…although little moments of greed, hatred, and delusion have left residues of suffering in your mind and brain, lots of little moments of practice will replace these Three Poisons and the suffering they cause with happiness, love, and wisdom.

Hanson writes:

The most powerful way to use your mind-body connection to improve your physical and mental health is through guiding your ANS.  Every time you calm the ANS through stimulating the PNS you tilt your body toward inner peace and well being.

Deliberately taking steps to make you feel safer and calm the ANS helps control the hardwired tendency to look for and overreact to threats.  Practices, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, using imagery, connecting with others, being mindful of fear itself, coming into the present, evoking inner protectors, being realistic, and increasing your sense of secure attachment, encourage this.  The PNS can also be stimulated by relaxing breathing exercises, big exhalations, touching the lips, mindfulness of the body, balancing your heartbeat, biofeedback, and meditation. Find refuge in whatever is a sanctuary and refueling station for you, including people, activities, places, and intangible things like reason, a sense of your innermost being, or truth, will increase the PNS calming response in your body.

image source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/josefeliciano/

14 Comments

  1. Great article. I’ve been sharing this type of information with clients for years but you have put it in such a concise, straight-forward, simple way that I think will allow people to take the appropriate actions more readily.

    • Tony, thanks a bunch! I’m sorry I missed your comment until now. I put the information in terms I can understand and implement in my own life. I think, people get intimated, including myself, when there is too much technical talk!

  2. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Again, such a wonderful reminder that our mind can control our body and reduce stress…something everyone needs to know. Great article.

  3. Pingback: Six Ways To Instantly Calm Your Brain and Body | The Best Brain Possible

  4. Mental states are very tightly linked to what goes on in the gut (95% of serotonin is made in the gut). This is a whole new field developing. Our gut flora and the state of our gut lining are being examined as the possible “source” of pretty much all mental ailments. The major culprits are nutritional deficiencies, toxins in food or environment, medications/vaccines, antibiotics, molds, parasites, excess of sugar, grains and stress. They recommend high quality wholesome foods, probiotics, digestive enzymes and to do an elimination diet to detect food allergies or intolerances. Have you heard?

    • Oh yes, Zabelisa, I am well aware of the enteric nervous system and its potential impact on mental health and overall health in general. Most of the immune system is there also. However, I don’t think the average person knows anything about this. If people would improve what they eat, I think we’d see the resolution of many present day maladies. My blog on the enteric nervous system https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/the-best-belly-2/

    • dblhampton Reply

      Oh yes, Zabelisa, I am well aware of the enteric nervous system and its potential impact on mental health and overall health in general. Most of the immune system is there also. However, I don’t think the average person knows anything about this. If people would improve what they eat, I think we’d see the resolution of many present day maladies. My blog on the enteric nervous system https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/the-best-belly-2/

  5. dblhampton Reply

    Oh yes, Zabelisa, I am well aware of the enteric nervous system and its potential impact on mental health and overall health in general. Most of the immune system is there also. However, I don’t think the average person knows anything about this. If people would improve what they eat, I think we’d see the resolution of many present day maladies. My blog on the enteric nervous system https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/the-best-belly-2/

  6. Pingback: Breaking The Cycle Of Stress - The best brain possible

  7. Pingback: Using Your Body To Change Your Brain - The best brain possible

  8. Pingback: How To Easily Get A Better Brain Today - The best brain possible

  9. Pingback: Using your Body to Improve your Brain

  10. Pingback: How To Heal The Brain After Trauma - The Best Brain Possible

  11. Pingback: 5 Ways To Improve Your Mental Health - The Best Brain Possible

Write A Comment

Get information and inspiration on how to have your best brain and life delivered right to your inbox.

Close this popup