Deep Rest Reset - How to support your nervous system
What is deep rest?
Your alarm goes off, you wake up suddenly, grab your phone and have a scroll to wake up.
Realise you will run late. Jump in the shower, jump out. Get dressed. Get the kids dressed.
Make breakfast for the kids, eat your breakfast on the go while making lunchboxes, pack bags, get out the door (this is an easy morning - no protests, arguments or lost shoes!), drop the kids at school, get to work, check your emails, work through lunch - you can eat later, put out fires, finish work, make school pick up, make afternoon tea, help with homework, run a bath for the kids, put on dinner, sit down at the computer for a quick moment to pay a few bills, get the kids out of the bath, serve dinner, negotiate like your life depends on it for the broccoli and carrots to get eaten, read the kids a book, settle them to sleep, emerge triumphantly and rifle for school bags for permission slips that need signing and excursions that need paying and finally sit down down for some glorious time just you and Netflix.
Me time. It's already almost 9 pm but hey, me time is important, so you stay up too late, to wake up blurry-eyed to the alarm again the next morning.
The timeline might change, the extent of support and sharing the load with partners and kids might change, the age of children will change, you might not even have children and it might look like this!
Oh, I forgot to put in exercise and time to nurture relationships and care for dogs and cats and other family members and taking the car in for that service.
My point is, we live incredibly busy lives. And if you wanted me to take a breath, add some space between all the action and commas in that second paragraph, imagine how your body feels.
Our bodies are designed to do "on" for periods, and "off" for periods. Sounds entirely logical right? But where the hell do we fit relaxation into an already packed schedule?
We need to consider how to insert deep rest into our day to day as a must because resetting our nervous system and refilling our cups is not a privilege, it’s essential.
How do I support my nervous system?
Be mindful and observe “the rush”
Are there times when you can feel the rush? That feeling you get when you are late when you are trying to do too many things at once - that adrenalin filled “caffeine-like” over-stimulation that is the complete opposite to calm. Observe these moments and try to slow it down….and breathe.
That surge feeling is indeed adrenalin, along with the stress hormone cortisol and is triggered when the brain perceives stress. Handy in a real emergency, entirely non-sustainable long term when experienced frequently. High levels contribute to anxiety, overwhelm, brain fog, insomnia and eventually burnout. Our breathing moves up from our belly to our chests and becomes shallow. When this happens frequently the muscles that control breathing get used to it being this way and the cycle is perpetuated. Shallow breath = more cortisol and adrenalin.
One of my favourite techniques for busy women is to regain control by using deep breathing techniques, for several reasons -
Can be utilised in small periods of time while doing other things - driving, packing lunches, working
Can be done anywhere, anytime
The use of breath to control anxiety is often recommended when in an anxious state, however, I find it far more useful long term to focus on deep breathing as a several-times-daily exercise - like drinking water.
There are many different breathing techniques, but to start off simple including three deep breaths, three times daily will make a huge difference.
If you make one change today - choose this one - and stick to it.
Another great restorer for the time-poor, acupressure mats, those nasty looking spiky things, can work wonders to induce a deep rest state and relax muscles once you have gotten used to how to use them. The first time you try you will probably curse me - try lying down on your back on your mat with a blanket or clothing between the mat and you at first and five minutes is a great starting point, however 10-20 minutes down the track once a day can really calm your nervous system (and just laying quietly for this time will also do wonders!). The middle of the day is a wonderful time to reset if you can get away with it, some people also like to keep one under a desk if you have bare feet or to stand on while cooking dinner.
Aim for 8 hours. If your sleep is broken, improve the quality. This means addressing your sleep if you
Have trouble falling asleep
Have trouble returning to sleep if woken by children
If waking in the night, not woken by children
Regularly going to bed too late (no later than 10pm)
Getting less than 8 hours
You sleep is light and you wake unrefreshed
For the mamas with little ones, you need nervous system support the most. Include as many of the other things as possible to ride you through these years.
Hydrotherapy has been a wellness technique utilised back as far as Roman and Egyptian times. A warm quiet bath, dim lighting and relaxing music will do wonders for the soul. Add half a cup of magnesium (Epsom) salts for extra muscle relaxation and relaxing essentials oils such as lavender and chamomile.
Time in Nature
There are plenty of incredible studies out there that look at our cortisol and adrenalin responses when in a natural setting. 10-30 minutes has a profound effect on reducing these hormones so head to the beach, go for a bushwalk or simply head outside with a cuppa and sit under a tree or on a piece of grass.
Other nervous system support tools
There are many nervine herbs available to help us keep our calm and these are a must to get familiar with for all mothers! My favourites are
One of the things I love about nervine herbs is that they are often very well absorbed in the form of tea. You can even find some of these on your supermarket shelf (although capsules or liquid tinctures are often stronger). You can even utilise “sleep teas” as the herbs commonly used in these blends are not sedatives, they are simply calming to the nervous system and so can be used throughout the day if you tend to run fast.
Another group of incredibly beneficial herbs are adaptogen herbs. These herbs send messages to the brain to modify a fast fight-or-flight reaction so that we don’t leap so quickly into a high adrenalin/cortisol state. This results in more stable and sustainable energy, lowered levels of stress and greater calm.
Ginseng (Siberian ginseng is my fave for women, a very gentle non-stimulating ginseng)
Both nervine and adaptogen herbs are best used daily over a longer period of time, proportionate to the daily demands and stress you may be experiencing.
Nutrients that are vital for our nervous systems (and often the first to become depleted when busy) include
Magnesium (aka “mum”-nesium as I like to call it)
Many of these help us create neurotransmitters and hormones that help us to keep our cool.
Foods that heal
Foods to include for nervous system support
Fish and seafood
Legumes - lentils, chick peas, beans
A rainbow of vegetables - aim for 5 serves daily
Quality dairy sources in small amounts
Quality grains - our nervous system needs some carbs!
Dark chocolate - woohoo!
The other big one is DO NOT SKIP MEALS!!!! This one is certain to send your nervous system into a tizzy. Eat a decent breakfast, a decent lunch and a decent dinner and don't leave too long between your meals. You should be refuelling every 3-5 hours.