How To Support Your Nervous System In The Festive Season
How To Support Your Nervous System In The Festive Season

How To Support Your Nervous System In The Festive Season

It could be worth holding back a bit of good will for yourself this Christmas. From the lifestyle habits worth breaking to advice for improving your stress resilience, here’s what the experts recommend for a calmer you…
By Tor West

Tune Into Your Emotions

“The nervous system plays a central role in our stress response. It’s also the control centre of the body, responsible for everything from your heartbeat to digestion and emotions. When you encounter a stressful situation, your sympathetic nervous system helps you react appropriately by kicking into gear. When it’s time to recover, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over to help you relax. Maintaining a balance between these two sides of your nervous system will enable you to respond more rationally to stress, leading to better mental and physical health. Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, sluggish, on edge and lacking focus are key signs your nervous system needs TLC.” – Deborah Maloney, transpersonal psychotherapist & founder of All Us Humans

Listen To Your Gut

“Your nervous system is closely connected to your gut. In fact, your gut and brain are in constant contact through a complex network of nerves and chemical signals that pass both ways. Symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – such as bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and excess gas – are common when we are stressed, and are key signs your nervous system needs support. When you experience these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s a sign your body is in a constant state of fight or flight.” – Melissa Cohen, functional medicine practitioner at The HVN

Don’t Skip Breakfast

“Cortisol patterns should mirror our circadian rhythm, peaking in the morning and levelling out at night. However, the body can’t differentiate between emotional and physiological stressors. Skipping meals, calorie restriction and inappropriate fasting can all raise cortisol – i.e. stress – levels. During periods of high stress, prioritise a nutrient-dense breakfast and eat at regular intervals throughout the day. At the same time, avoid eating on the run, which can exacerbate your fight-or-flight response, and take the time to eat mindfully, away from distraction. Taking a walk after mealtimes can help to support this further.” – Christina Hughes, nutritionist & founder of Founded Nutrition

Plan Ahead

“At this time of the year, we need more sleep, more nutritious food and more self-care, yet so many of us end up getting less. Start by setting some social boundaries. Be clear about what this time of the year means to you and only do the things at the top of your list. Your energy is precious, so enjoy the events that mean a lot to you with the people you love. We create oxytocin – the love and feel-good hormone – by spending time with those we trust and love. Social bonding with loved ones makes us feel good, which in turn supports the nervous system and encourages the body to find equilibrium.” – Deborah

Take The Pressure Off

“It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of trying to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas, but taking the pressure off and letting go of unrealistic expectations is important. Say no to activities or tasks that feel overwhelming and prioritise self-care activities that recharge you. If you feel the pressure to say yes to every social occasion you’re invited to, learn how to say no. Be honest and assertive, and don’t be afraid to discuss your social limits with friends and family.” – Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist & founder of Private Therapy Clinic

Move Your Body

“Exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones and trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. Exercise also enhances blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which supports cognitive function and mental wellbeing. Striking a balance between cardio and restorative exercises is key to keep stress levels balanced. Yoga, which combines movement with mindfulness, is the perfect way to move your body during the festive season. If cardio is your thing, brisk walking or jogging outdoors can kickstart sluggish energy levels and help manage stress.” – Mariel Witmond, life coach

Start Sighing

“When we are stressed, the body enters fight or flight mode, which makes our breathing shallow and rapid to increase oxygen, priming the body for action. If we don’t use this extra oxygen, there is a temporary imbalance in the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, which causes many of the symptoms of anxiety. It can help to practise physiological sighing. Start by inhaling and then before you get to the top, inhale again. Then, expel all the air with an exhale. This technique helps to reinflate collapsed air sacs caused by shallow breathing – it’s like giving your lungs a refreshing reset and promotes a sense of calm.” – Mariel

Have A Cold Shower

“Adding a blast of cold water to your shower will strengthen your vagus nerve, an important part of your stress response that connects the brain, heart and gut. This all-important highway controls how the body reacts to stress and how easy it is to slip into a ‘rest and digest’ state. Studies show having a cold shower increases stimulation of the vagus nerve, making you more resilient to stress over time.” – Melissa

Time Your Caffeine

“Good-quality coffee can be rich in polyphenols and have some impressive health benefits. However, everyone has an individual caffeine tolerance which can be affected by our cortisol levels. Elevated cortisol can lead to an increased heart rate which may explain the sensation of palpitations familiar to many. Avoiding caffeine while fasted, and potentially holding off on the first coffee until mid-morning when cortisol levels are past their peak may be beneficial. Swap your morning coffee for green tea, which contains L-theanine, an amino acid that can lower cortisol levels.” – Christina 

Get Off Your Phone

“Screens disconnect and numb us from real intimacy and connection. When we use our phones and laptops, we think we’re regulating our nervous system but it’s a false sense of regulation, where we aren’t present in our body, or even the real world. The more we rely on screens to regulate, the less we can regulate naturally, which increases stress levels. Plus, many of us are subconsciously triggered by what we see or read online. Being ‘triggered’ is when something happens in the present that connects us to something difficult in our past – it’ll send the body into a fight-or-flight response and you may lose the day, or longer, trying to find regulation again.” - Deborah

Stay Curious

“Our bodies are constantly communicating with us, providing valuable information about our wellbeing and emotions. Get into the habit of paying attention to how your body responds to different social engagements and activities during the festive season. If you feel tension, fatigue or discomfort, consider it a signal your body is calling for a rest, boundary adjustment or reassessment of priorities. Similarly, moments of joy, relaxation or a sense of fulfilment can be cues that you’re engaging in activities that align with your values.” – Mariel

Use Supplements To Unwind

“The right supplements can be beneficial during stressful periods. Ashwagandha – a well-known adaptogen – may impact how your body responds to stress, while taking magnesium before bed can relax the nervous system and aid sleep. Look for magnesium glycinate or taurate for the best anti-stress effects.” – Christina

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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