Natural Things You Can Do to Calm Your Nervous System

Written by: Dr. Fiona Lovely, Chiropractor

Practitioner of Functional Neurology and Functional Medicine at AST

We live in a world where we are bombarded with information, in multiple ways, every second of every day.  Many people aren’t aware just how stressful to our brain and nerve systems this bombardment can be.  Frankly, we have yet to adapt to this unique kind of stress and it can leave us feeling depleted and overstimulated.

Email.  Social media.  Text messages. And the occasional relic - voicemail. Screens of all sorts are pervasive. While we revel in being connected, we must recognize that it means our brain needs to process this information. So, when you hear how you must reduce stress in order to be healthy, know that screen use is a big part of modern-day stress. This is on top of job, family, mental health, money, relationship etc.

The fight-flight-freeze part of our nerve system - the sympathetic division, is the part that senses stress. We can feel wired, exhausted and struggle to get a good night’s sleep. We might never feel well rested. We lose productivity during the day and feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

It isn’t all bad news - there are some quick fixes for this hyper-vigilance and unwell feeling that stress can cause. 

  1. Limit your screen time. Your phone likely has a timer which can tell you just how many hours a week you are spending looking at it. That can be a real eye opener! What would you be able to accomplish if you limited that time to an hour a day? All in - messaging, calls, emails, social media.
  2. Get a restful sleep. No blue-light (anything with a screen) for at least an hour before bedtime. Pick a regular bedtime and stick to it, even on the weekend. A helpful guideline: the more hours of sleep you get before midnight, the more rested you will be. You can also take Magnesium Glycinate at bedtime to help you relax, but of course, check with your doctor before starting anything new.
  3. Studies show the brain does best with 20 minutes per day of activity. One easy way to incorporate this is to do high intensity bursts of activity for 2-4 minutes, then lower rates of movement to recover. Repeat the process until you've reached the goal. This increases the release of the chemicals which encourage and strengthen connection between neurons as well as the endorphin release - the chemicals which make you feel relaxed and happy.
  4. Meditate. This doesn’t need to be fancy - listening to relaxing music or taking 5 deep breaths is considered meditative. Pause, in quiet, allows a network in our brains which needs space to work through things and store memories, to go to work. This is called the Default Network Mode and it’s critical to our brain health and overall well-being and calm.
  5. Acknowledge trauma and get help. There is much ado at the moment about the role of past trauma and how it continues to affect the stress response systems of the brain. Trauma can be defined as any experience which made you feel unsafe and to which you developed adaptations to make you feel safe. Under this definition, we can see that all of us have experienced trauma. This lingers in your system and amps the nervous system into a perpetual state of fight-flight or freeze. Reach out and talk to a mental health professional if you think you could use help in this area. A skilled practitioner - chiropractor, registered massage therapist, or physiotherapist can help you move through the physical effects of the trauma in a safe environment too.

Calm is not just a state of mind but a physical place too. Work to change a few things in your current lifestyle to invite in peace. Your brain will thank you for it!

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Best Sleeping Positions for Pain Relief

By: Riley Weiler, MRU Practicum Student at AST

Sleep, like pain or injury, is unique to each individual. Most people have that ‘go-to’ sleeping position, whether that be on your back, side, stomach, or some type of combination. No matter what your preference is, if you’re finding that you frequently wake up feeling stiff and sore, keep reading for 3 tips and tricks to a better night’s sleep!

Keep it Neutral

Spinal alignment is definitely something to consider if you are experiencing discomfort from your sleeping position. The best way to reduce discomfort is to keep the spine as neutral as possible. This means trying your best to keep your natural alignment all the way from your head/neck, down to you hips/buttocks. Keeping neutral alignment also requires you to be mindful of major areas like your shoulders, hips, and knees. Having your spine straight does not mean you have to sleep on your back, stiff as a board. It just means doing what you can to reduce those awkward arches that go hand-in-hand with each sleeping position.

Fill in the Gaps

Pillows can be a saving grace when it comes to correcting your alignment during sleep. Often times there are ‘gaps’ in our sleeping positions that can cause awkward bends in the spine, resulting in excess pressure on the spine and supporting musculature. This excess pressure can be quickly reduced by filling the gap with a pillow.

Stomach Sleepers: Try sleeping with a small pillow under your stomach and hip area. This will relieve some of the pressure on your lower back by reducing the excess amount of curve that occurs when lying on your stomach.

Back Sleepers: Place a small pillow under your knees. This helps maintain the natural curve of the lower back and pelvis.

Side Sleepers: Body pillows are a great option to help your alignment when sleeping on your side! You can place the body pillow between your knees to reduce the amount of strain on your hips and back from the upper leg. You can also use the upper portion of the pillow to ‘hug’ which should reduce misalignment in the shoulders and prevent twisting in the upper back/neck.

Avoid Sleeping in 'Extreme' Positions

Avoid positions where muscles are either under extreme tension or contraction. For example if you are using a pillow that is too soft, your head will sink in, causing one side of the neck to be under constant contraction, and the other to be under constant tension. This position irritates the muscles in the neck and the cervical spine. When we wake up and quickly straighten our necks without warming up those muscles or considering the position we were sleeping in, we rapidly stretch the muscles that have been in a contracted position all night, and shorten those that have been under tension resulting in feeling stiff and sore or possibly injuring yourself. Try to be extra aware of your sleeping positions if they could be an ‘extreme’ position, and be a little cautious when jumping out of bed in the morning!

Remember, sleep is different for every single person! Try not to get too hung up on feeling like you have to sleep a certain way if you are struggling with lower back pain. Most people’s sleeping positions change throughout the night while they are tossing and turning, but these simple corrective tips could help here and there. If you are interested in further sleeping tips, refer to our earlier blog post about choosing the right pillow here.

*This blog is not intended to officially establish a physician-patient relationship, to replace the services of a trained physician, naturopathic doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor or otherwise to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.