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20 Ways to Activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System


ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system


While I typically steer away from talking about the science-y aspect of self-care and stress relief, I have recently found myself talking about ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system with people in both my personal and professional life.  I’m teaching clients and friends (and myself!) that it’s important to not only prioritize self-care, but to make sure we are giving our body and mind the self-care it needs when it needs it.

This may seem like a tall order, or another thing on your ever-growing to-do list, but fear not.  Your Self Care Bestie is here to break it all down for you.  Read on to find out why you need to be activating your parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) on the regular, and what the heck it even is.  Oh, and of course, I’m going to share 20 ways to go ahead and do the darn thing.

What is the parasympathetic nervous system?

The parasympathetic nervous system can most easily be explained as operating the “rest and digest” state as opposed to the “fight, flight, or freeze” state, which is operated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  I probably don’t have to tell you that rest and digest is where we would ideally spend most of our time – it’s the state in which we can function highly mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Fight, flight, or freeze is that not-s0-fun state that puts us into high anxiety mode, telling us that the world is not safe and we will not be ok (whether or not that’s actually the truth).

These days (read: in 2020), so many of us are spending a good portion of our time being controlled by that darn SNS, whether we realize it or not.  It seems that everywhere we turn, there’s another news article (or, let’s be honest, Facebook post) about how the world is ending, big scary creatures are a thing now, and natural disasters of epic proportions are headed our way.  I’m not trying to make light of the actual hardships we have endured collectively and individually this year – heck no.  I’m just bringing awareness to the fact that each and every day there seems to be something new that turns our attention away from the here and now, and throws us right into that anxious, hyper-vigilant state that is so incredibly uncomfortable.  Ultimately, this can become super problematic over time, as the harmful effects of stress and anxiety can deteriorate our physical health as well as our mental health.

How to activate the parasympathetic nervous system

While it may seem like a tall order to spend much (or any) time in the desired rest and digest state, it doesn’t have to be!  There are tons of ways to activate your PSNS, in fact.  All you are really looking to do is intentionally set aside some time to focus on slowing wayyyy down and allowing your body and mind to rest, and just be.  There are so many ways to do this, when you think about it that way, so if there’s something coming to mind for you, I would start by doing just that.  If you’re needing some ideas or inspiration for how to activate your PSNS, I got your back.

20 ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system

1. Get outside

2. Meditate

3. Breathwork

4. Praying

5. Spend time with your favorite people

6. Yoga

7. Shift your thoughts to positivity

8. Get a massage (or give yourself one if that doesn’t feel safe right now)

9. Mindfully eat something delicious

10. Take a hot bath

11. Put on your favorite relaxing music and listen to it by candlelight

12. Take a break from your phone for the day

13. Snuggle or cuddle a pet or person

14. Progressive muscle relaxation

15. Give yourself margin in your schedule (don’t rush from one thing to the next!)

16. Do a visualization exercise or use guided imagery

17. Practice gratitude

18. Hygge it up!

19. Do nothing.  Just sit still and BE.

20. Try aromatherapy

There you have it, my friends!  Can you think of any other ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and get into that blessed rest and digest state??  Feel free to share away in the comments!

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