Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s new book, Life Is Your Best Medicine, draws on her diverse background in midwifery, massage therapy, herbal medicine and Western medicine to present a holistic approach to healthy living. Here, she offers tips for calming our overburdoned nervous systems.
Sensory overload is what happens when the input from our environment becomes too much for our nervous system to manage, a state our body perceives as highly stressful. Think about how many times you’ve been busy cooking dinner, helping the kids with homework, checking e-mail, throwing in a load of laundry, watching TV, while catching up with your spouse. Or driving along at 65 miles per hour, watching out for other drivers, talking to other passengers, thinking about where you’re going and listening to the radio. All of these everyday situations are pretty intense for senses that evolved in relative quiet and at pedestrian speeds! Our nervous system simply wasn’t built to sustain this level of sensory stimulation. We can handle it for brief periods, but chronic stimulation puts us in a state of perpetual tension, our bodies feeling as if they’re on high alert all the time.
While overload is one problem, sensory deprivation is another. We deprive our senses of many things that nourish and soothe them. For instance, without quiet and solitude, we can end up feeling wound up and out of sorts. Researchers have found that time spent in nature lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and turns off the fight-or-flight response. Listening to soft music, doing meditation and using positive imagery and thoughts can decrease pain, ease anxiety and improve mood. Slowing down to eat a meal can set the stage for healthy digestion. What I’m trying to say is that one of the ways we keep our balance in this busy, chaotic world is to expose our senses to the delicate, softer sides of life.
To soothe your senses, try some of the following:
1. Use essential oils. Essential oils from plants can increase focus, lift our mood, and help us relax. Put 8 drops of lavender, bergamot or jasmine essential oil into a two-ounce bottle of water with a pump sprayer. Mist your room, office, car or pillow whenever you need to de-stress.
2. Go ahead and snuggle. Everyone loves the feel of soft fabrics against our skin, especially when combined with warmth. Wrap up in a soft, cozy blanket, and enjoy a hot cup of herbal tea.
3. Rent a comedy. Trade in the crime show or heavy drama for a night of laughter. Depending upon your taste, try Ghostbusters, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, A Fish Called Wanda, Finding Nemo or any comedy with Jim Carrey.
4. Listen, really listen, to music. Practice listening to music, not just hearing it in the background but actively listening to distinguish the different instruments, the natural pauses and the melody. Find music that soothes, and let it feed your soul.
5. Go green. Exercising outdoors is good for both your body and spirit. Studies show that walking, biking or running in nature can ease tension and lift mood far greater than doing the same amount of exercise in the gym.
Learn more about Tieraona Low Dog, MD, at drlowdog.com.