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Stressed Out: Is Your Nervous System Derailing You? How to Regulate and Find Balance

This week, 'Therapy Begins with Tea' steeps on the key to balancing your nervous system and offers a body based check-in using breathwork as a way to 'de-activate'.

Choosing rhythms over routines in your new year

Therapy Begins with Tea is a weekly newsletter based on the themes that come up in my sessions as a therapist who specializes in imposter syndrome, attachment styles in romantic relationships, and our psychological relationships with money. Each week consists of a 'steep' in thought reflection, an accompanying body based check-in, and tea card intentions for the week to come.

'Steep' in Thought (3-5 min)

The NervOUS SYSTEM: IS it just fight-or-flight?

The nervous system is a hot topic these days and for good reason -- understanding how to regulate our nervous system is one of the most healing things we can do for our wellbeing; our emotions are felt as much in the body as they are in the mind, after all. So first, a little biology review: made up of our brain, spinal cord, and the nerves spread throughout our body, our NS helps all the parts of the body communicate with one another. It controls a lot of what we think, what we feel, and how our body acts, especially in ‘emergency’ situations. 

The part that gets the most press, our fight-or-flight response, is the activation of one subset of our whole nervous system -- the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Our traumas can get lodged in this part of our nervous system & that’s where triggers (having a past wound activated) come from. Our inner child and protector parts also work in tandem with our SNS. Unresolved trauma and chronic stress can keep us stuck in fight-or-flight mode, constantly feeling emotionally (and physically) activated. 

Activation & De-activation: A NECESSARy BALANCe

We feel this as anxiety/anxious attachment, a ‘freeze’ response, rage, shame, & codependency, to name a few, but also in physical manifestations like hormone imbalance, sleep disturbances, and attention issues, Generally, these are emotions and experiences we don’t want to feel, but it’s important to remember that all parts have a function and a purpose, even the ones that seem to cause us problems. And our SNS isn’t a monster we need to cage. Healing our nervous system (especially our SNS) is not just about trying to de-activate it -- that’s only half the story. Activation is actually good for us sometimes -- not only when there’s a threat, but when we’re in situations where increases in lung capacity, energy, blood flow, cognitive acuity, & overall performance is beneficial -- like when you’re exercising or leading a presentation at work. 

De-activation (which calls in our PARA-sympathetic nervous system, the SNS’s counterpart) is key when we need to rest, digest (be that physically or emotionally/mentally), and recover. A regulated body needs the balance of both, but most of us stay in the SNS-- because of stress & trauma and because we’re conditioned by society to. The best thing we can do for our brain-body is work on recalibrating our nervous system throughout the day, especially when it comes to de-activation. The full body check-ins each week are a great place to start; this week’s reviews how we can use our breath to quickly ‘de-activate’ into a restful state.

Full Body Check-In (2-4 min)

Each week, we start with the breath. One of the fastest ways to ‘de-activate’ our nervous system (call in the ParaSNS) & move into a relaxed state is through the physiological sigh.

When you’re ready, start to inhale, feeling the air enter through your nose & fill your body. When your lungs are comfortably full, take a second, deeper breath in to fully expand your rib cage & belly. Now slowly breathe out through your mouth in a sigh. Make that sigh audible. And then repeat. Inhale. Quick second inhale. Slow, long exhale. 

Breathing cycles where the exhale is longer than the inhale act  as a reset to the body, signaling it to move into rest & digest mode. That it is safe. In moments you’d like to activate your SNS, try making the inhale longer than the exhale. Remember, both are good & needed. It’s about the balance.  

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