What is nervous system regulation?

Nervous system awareness is becoming increasingly popular with many mental health practitioners and counsellors educating clients in nervous system awareness and regulation, but what exactly is it and why is it so important to manage mental health and promote wellness? Let's break it down. 


What is it?

Our nervous system is the primary centre for our bodies, it regulates all our programs and controls how we experience the world around us. When our nervous system feels safe and secure, we too feel safe and secure. When our nervous system feels unsafe or insecure we may struggle with anxiety or unpleasant emotions. 

How does it work?

The nervous system uses tiny cells called neurons to send messages back and forth to the brain, through the spinal cord and the nerves in the body. Hence why the common phrase "my nerves are shot" is commonly used when we are anxious or nervous, however, have you ever considered that this actually relates to the nervous system?

The nervous system is so very intelligent, it has the capability to internally respond to all aspects of our external world. It responds to the people we meet, the activities we do, the situations we find ourselves in and the environment around us.  

It is an extremely complex system that comes in two forms – the central nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The central is the body's processing centre, it is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, and it extends to all parts of the body. The parasympathetic nervous system is a network of nerves that relaxes your body after stress or danger it is responsible for the body’s rest and safety response, it basically checks in to keep us safe and sends messages to the body. 

Nervous system dysregulation 

When the nervous system becomes dysregulated due to distress or prolonged feelings of stress it can lead to a prolonged state of anxiety, worry, trouble sleeping and various other problematic internal responses. Therefore the nervous system's health is extremely important to maintain good mental health and nervous system regulation is a key component of healing.

How can we regulate it? 

There are many therapeutic techniques that a person can use to regulate their parasympathetic nervous system causing a relaxation response within the body. This can counteract the body’s stress response, allowing us to soothe and settle any negative feelings we may be experiencing. However, using the breath to regulate it is the most accessible.
Here is a simple breathwork technique to try - use this quick therapeutic exercise to regulate and soothe during times when you feel overwhelmed or stressed.

Simply breathe deeply through your nose, release through your mouth, and repeat until soothed. Some people find it helpful to repeat an affirmation with each breath they take, this can be tailored to the feeling, for example, if you feel dysregulated due to a fear response, repeat, “I am safe”. Alternatively, it can be beneficial to focus on a comforting word or calming visual.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Newtownabbey BT36 & BT37
Written by Ashleigh Duncan, Counsellor MBACP
Newtownabbey BT36 & BT37

Ashleigh Duncan Counsellor MBACP
Owner and founder of AD Counselling and Wellness, Newtownabbey and Elements Wellness Studio. Published writer.

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