Are you feeling tense?

Craving something to relax your body a bit—but can't splurge or squeeze in that hour-long massage?

The good news: There are lots of small ways to find your chill, and it all ties back to your parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest and digest system).

The parasympathetic nervous system is what takes you from “stressed out” to “cool as a cucumber."

How does it work? The parasympathetic nervous system is always working, attempting to keep us in a comfortable, relaxed state. But it also must negotiate with our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system), so that we can handle stress when it arises.

The problem is that when we’re constantly stressed, which many of us are these days, the sympathetic nervous system is activated too much and the parasympathetic system can’t do its job effectively.

The solution: To calm ourselves in the age of stress, we need to strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system.

To calm ourselves in the age of stress, we need to strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system.
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How do we strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system and help our bodies to relax? Here are 6 science-backed ways to do it.

1. Get Social

While researching my new book on how to outsmart your smartphone, I kept running into the same problem—we’re socially disconnected. And I kept coming to the same solution—we need real experiences with real people in real life to achieve the health and happiness we desire.

Of course, you probably already know that being around your friends feels good, but did you know that being social also affects our parasympathetic nervous system and is great for our health?

If you're stressed, try surrounding yourself with one or two people who help you feel grounded—it could help you relax.

2. Exercise

Exercise is commonly applauded for its positive impacts on disease an overall health, but exercise also improves parasympathetic activity.

By exercising regularly, we're able to achieve changes in our parasympathetic nervous system that benefit us not only in the moment but in the longer-term.

Whether it's a brisk walk or an intense power yoga class, know that prioritizing movement can help you find your chill.

3. Breathe Deep

Deep breathing is often the go-to strategy for activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Why? Because you can do it anytime— even now.

So pause now for three deep breaths. In your mind count to eight while you breathe in and then count to eight while you breath out. How do you feel? A bit better?

4. Listen to Calm Music

Studies have shown that listening to calming music can lead to decreased heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. It can even help reduce momentary anxiety or stress.

So tune that Pandora station to “relaxation radio” to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and calm your body.

5. Take Mindful Moments

Mindfulness is increasingly thought to be a tool that can be used to increase parasympathetic nervous system activity.

Why it works: Slowing down and staying present can remind your body that it’s safe and that our fight or flight system can take a break.

Slowing down and staying present can remind your body that it’s safe and that our fight or flight system can take a break.
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So put down your phone, maybe even try to get outside, and take a mindful moment. It just might slow you down enough to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Sing It Out

How do we get the most of all these techniques and do the most good for our parasympathetic nervous system?

My suggestion: Karaoke therapy.

It combines the benefits of being social, requires you to take deep breaths before you belt out each tune, exposes you to music, keeps you off your phone and in the moment, and, if you’re bouncing up and down on that stage, you might even get some exercise too.

So give karaoke therapy a shot—your parasympathetic system will thank you for it.


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