How an overactive nervous system calms

Have you come across articles with tips and tricks as for how to calm down your overactive nervous system? If so, ponder this question. Did you think these articles referred to the central or peripheral nervous system? Were the authors talking about the cells in our brain or nerves in our toes and elbows?

Most likely, the idea was that the activity in the central nervous system can become excessive and if our brains calm down, then we would feel less anxious. What you may not have read, however, is that we can learn much from how our peripheral nervous system works that clarifies how we find that peace of mind that has been escaping us. With this in mind, let us look at a hurt finger. 

The sensitive finger

Have you found that after burning your finger, or biting your tongue, or hurting yourself in some other way, there is extra sensitivity. The part of your body that was affected becomes hypersensitive. Why is that?

Ponder for a second and see what you think.

This phenomenon known as allodynia exists to make sure we don’t damage an already hurt part of our body even more. It’s a safety thing. And as you probably know, it fades away on its own as our body heals itself.

What you may not have known however is this: the nervous system behaves the same way when it has encountered intangible insults. Because it’s designed to keep us from repeat injuries regardless of what type.

When we’ve been anxious for any reason and thought this emotional response was out of proportion to the circumstances, the brain will classify this as an insult, as something it doesn’t want to see happen again, and it deploys safety mode. Think grizzly bear nearby. 

Safety mode means high alert. It means reacting quickly, paying attention to what’s happening within us and around us. It means jitteriness and a high heart rate. In other words, it means experiencing everything we think of as symptoms of an overactive nervous system.

Now here’s the thing, if we think of this as a problem residing in faulty synapses or in the production of too much or too little of a hormone or the imbalance of neurotransmitters, we aren’t seeing the big picture.

We aren’t seeing that overactivity is evidence that we have a perfectly healthy nervous system that is doing exactly what it is designed to do. We aren’t seeing that “over” doesn’t mean “too much” but rather “the extra amount added so we aren’t hurt again”. And not seeing this is what can keep the extra activity from winding down.

Remember that our nervous system is designed for safety. If we think the extra activity means we aren’t safe, this in itself will keep the system in safety mode, creating a self perpetuating cycle.

On the other hand, when we think of the overactivity in our nervous system the same way we think of an extra sensitive finger, as evidence that all is working as designed, then the opposite of a self perpetuating cycle will happen: a self limiting cycle of less and less reactivity.

A cycle of less and less struggle with more and more peace. This is how an overactive nervous system calms down. 

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