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How To Calm Your Nervous System: 3 Simple Tricks That Can Calm Your Anxiety

how to calm your nervous system

Mental health isn’t just about what’s happening in the brain. The nervous system, body, and brain all form a kind of loop that passes feedback around, and this can work to our advantage or disadvantage. This is one of the reasons that exercise has been shown to be effective for improving mental health—the flood of endorphins that enters our body during exercise makes us feel good.

Similarly, if our nervous system is stuck in fight or flight, talking about our feelings may only provide temporary mental relief from the onslaught of physical anxiety. It’s helpful to have a few tricks up your sleeve to calm the nervous system when it’s on high alert—the more you’re able to physically relax yourself, the more the mind will follow towards release and relief.

Let’s explore 3 simple techniques you can use to calm your nervous system.

 

Understanding Your Nervous System

Before we dive into the techniques, let’s take a moment to understand what happens when our bodies get overly stressed. When we experience stress, whether it’s from work, relationships, or other external factors, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. This is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response, where our bodies prepare to either confront the threat head-on or run away from it.

During this response, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense up, and our breathing becomes rapid and shallow. These physical changes are designed to help us deal with immediate danger, but when stress becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.

Some common signs that your nervous system may be in overdrive include:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shallow breathing
  • Feeling on edge or irritable

There’s nothing innately wrong with feeling this way—most of us experience stress on a daily basis. Just think of these signs as a friendly invitation to check in with your body and manually down-shift into a more relaxed gear.

 

calm your anxiety

 

Technique #1: Yawning and Sighing

Believe it or not, something as simple as yawning and sighing can help relax your nervous system. Yawns and sighs help release the vagus nerve, which controls relaxation, and helps to release tension in your muscles.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Give a big, exaggerated yawn. Really stretch your jaw as wide as you can.
  2. Lift your hands above your head and stretch outwards and upwards.
  3. Let out a loud sigh on the exhale, making sure to be noisy about it.
  4. Shake your body a bit, letting go of any remaining tension.
  5. Repeat this process as needed until you start to feel more relaxed.

Note: Don’t overdo the yawning and sighing. You can actually slow the body down too much with excessive yawns and sighs. More than 10 self-initiated yawns a day is probably bordering on too many. Yawning more than 30 times a day is considered “excessive yawning.”

 

Technique #2: Self Holding by Peter Levine

This technique (developed by Dr. Peter Levine, the founder of somatic experiencing) is a powerful way to help calm your nervous system and regain a sense of containment. When we experience trauma or chronic stress, we can feel scattered and disconnected from our bodies. This exercise helps us reconnect and feel grounded.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Place one hand on the body under the opposite arm, then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm, essentially giving yourself a hug.
  2. Pay attention to your body and allow yourself to settle into the position.
  3. Focus on the sensation of being supported and contained by your own body.
  4. Notice any shifts in your breathing or bodily sensations as you continue to hold yourself in this way. Pay attention to your sense of self, and the feeling of your body.
  5. Take your time with this exercise, allowing yourself to fully experience the feeling of containment before coming out of it.

 

Technique #3: Shake it Off

Ever noticed how animals shake themselves after a stressful situation? According to Dr. Levine, this instinctual behavior helps to release trauma from their bodies. Similarly, humans can benefit from shaking off tension and stress.

Here’s how to shake it off:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and allow your arms to hang loosely by your sides.
  2. Begin to shake your body gently, starting with your hands and arms and then gradually moving up to your shoulders, torso, and legs.
  3. Focus on releasing any pent-up energy or tension as you shake.
  4. Continue shaking for a few minutes, allowing yourself to surrender to the movement.
  5. When you’re ready, take a few deep breaths and notice how you feel.

 

Relax The Body, Release The Mind

Incorporating these simple techniques into your daily routine can help calm your nervous system and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. By addressing the whole system—not just the mind—we can deepen the impact of the work we do to heal. Whether you’re yawning and sighing, practicing self-holding, shaking it off, or simply going for a walk: remember to be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to relax. Your nervous system will thank you for it.

 

 

 

Robb Kornoelje is the owner of The Truism Center, a relationship enthusiast, and the creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day, fully online email course offers gentle guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this journey to improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.

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