There are all sorts of occasions in life when our nerves can get the better of us. Feelings of anxiety – a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, and light-headedness – are normal in these situations.
Fortunately, with a little practice, we can turn this nervous energy into positive concentration by centering ourselves.
Being “centered” or “present” isn’t a trait that is accomplished by “doing” as most of us busy professionals are accustomed to. It requires more of an “undoing” to be present or centered. The ability to quickly become the calm eye in the storm requires practice, time and focus.
The eye in the storm refers to the calm area found at the center of a strong tropical cyclone called the “eye”. When you are in the eye of the storm, you are often not aware of the whiplash around you.
Just like the eye of the storm, no matter what is going on around you, you are able to connect with that part of you that is always calm, cool and collected.
A great health practice is to focus on spending more time in the parasympathetic state of your body’s central nervous system. Every aspect of your health will benefit from it.
The Anatomy of the Human Nervous System
Your body’s nervous system has two states – sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system is activated by threat or struggling. It prepares us for ‘fight or flight’ to survive a threat to life. Non-essential systems (digestion, rejuvenation, detoxification) close down, and the body reacts by:
- releasing a shot of adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing the heart to race,
- speeding up breathing, which becomes a gasping in the upper chest and shoulders,
- blood rushes to the head, the brain becomes very alert, they eyes become hyper-attentive
- muscles of movement tense up in readiness, muscles of the digestive system stop working.
The parasympathetic state is opposite – breathing and heart rate slow, and we enter a state of comfort and ease where digestion and other metabolic processes resume. The energy is calm and located lower in the abdomen. Each breath is like a sigh (emphasis on out-breath) rather than a gasp (emphasis on in-breath). A healthy person will be always ready to jump into the fight-or-flight sympathetic response, but will not spend much time there, because it is to exhausting for the body to stay on red-alert. But some people habitually stay in this red-alert state for long periods. So they feel constantly anxious, exhausted from being vigilant (but unable to relax or sleep well), and unable to digest food property – leading to food sensitivity and nutrition issues. Keeping the central nervous system in this sympathetic alert state is an unhealthy habit leading to chronic diseases.
We all have those crazy things happening around us…but how do you stay zen in those moments?
Here’s a few of my favorite tips:
Tip #1: Focus on Your Breathing
Concentrate on breathing deeply, using your diaphragm to draw air all the way down into your lungs.
If you're not familiar with deep breathing, try this exercise:
Lie on the floor or somewhere comfortable but supported. Place one hand on your stomach, and take a deep breath in through your nose. Use the air you breathe in to push against your hand. Your chest and shoulders shouldn't move – only your stomach. Exhale slowly and deliberately through your mouth.
Spend a while completely focusing on your breathing.
You really can become the "Eye of the Storm" when you know how to use your breathing to re-center in a place that is deeper and wider than all the busy-ness that surrounds you these days.
Tip #2: Boost Your Magnesium Intake
Most people's magnesium levels are critically deficient.
I could easily write a book on magnesium and its very powerful benefits. Here’s just a few:
- Magnesium relaxes the nervous system. Serotonin, which relaxes the nervous system and elevates mood, is dependent on magnesium.
- When magnesium is deficient, the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin is disturbed. Magnesium can bring balance and control stress hormones. Stress and tension are often reasons why people suffer from insomnia in the first place.
- Magnesium loosens tight muscles. Without it, muscles do not relax properly and cramps occur.
To get your levels up quickly, eat magnesium-rich foods such as: kelp, almonds, cashews, molasses, buckwheat, Brazil nuts, Dulse, Filberts, Millet, Pecans.
You can also take a top quality oral magnesium supplement such as the Natural Calm Magnesium Citrate Powder.
Tip #3: Live on Purpose
If being busy is your goal, re-think that. Are you living on purpose or are you doing a lot of things that take you off purpose? Is your activity supporting your intentions or purpose?
Most people are so busy reacting to the needs of daily life that they’re happy just to be getting through the day. It’s hard to live on purpose when life revolves around daily crises and you’re always feeling overwhelmed. By taking the time to define your purpose, you’ll open up more time and space, have more energy, and be more focused.
Tip #4: Skip the Joe
Your morning espresso can bring back wonderful memories of a trip spent in Italy, which up to a point can be very centering. However, less is more in regards to your caffeine intake.
Caffeine is absorbed into the blood and tissues within about 45 minutes of being consumed. But it takes much longer than that for your body to break it down and clear it from your system.
Caffeine is a stimulant that speeds up your central nervous system. It can exaggerate the effects of stress. It directly affects not only the way your body responds to stress but also the mind by magnifying your perception of stress.
It’s really difficult to notice caffeine’s effect until you back off. Cutting back gradually on caffeine over the course of a week may help to avoid any withdrawal symptoms.
Tip #5: Let Food be thy Medicine
I am very aware the affect food has on me and sometimes I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse. If my food intake is off or not nourishing my body, it gets in the way of my centering.
Avoid foods that maximize the amount of time and energy your nervous system spends in catabolic mode, which tears down the body (sugar, processed foods). Instead, consume foods that maximize the amount of time and energy your nervous system spends in anabolic mode, which nourishes, heals, and regenerates the body.
Some examples of powerful foods that can help calm your nervous system naturally include:
B-vitamins: These help the brain transmit information by assisting with production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Best food sources: calf's liver, spinach, leafy greens, chicken, lentils, halibut, eggs.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and therefore helps prevent nerve cells from becoming damaged. It also can slow the process of cognitive decline. Best food sources: raw sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach, leafy greens.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Since the brain is composed of mostly fat, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for preventing brain degeneration and keeping the brain healthy. Best food sources: flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, halibut, shrimp, scallops.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine: This is a supplement that is derived from plants and may help slow the aging of the brain. It also is known to increase memory and clarity of thought. Sources: high quality meats and dairy; also can be taken as a supplement.
Antioxidants: These powerful nutrients help to protect cells in the nervous tissue and keep them functioning properly. Best food sources: blueberries, blackberries, walnuts, pomegranate juice, fresh vegetables and fruits.
Magnesium & Potassium: These two nutrients work together to help keep our nerves healthy and under control. They relax nerves and muscles, which allows for proper circulation and blood flow. Best food sources of magnesium: raw pumpkin seeds, spinach, salmon, raw sunflower seeds, halibut, sesame seeds, black beans. Best food sources of potassium: swiss chard, lima beans, yams, winter squash, soybeans, avocado, spinach, lentils.
Tip #6: Find Your Center and Redirect Your Energy
Find your “physical center of gravity” which is visualized as being about two inches below your navel. You will feel grounded and stabilized by focusing your mind on this part of your body.
When you start to feel stressed, turn your attention to your center to remind yourself that you have balance and control. Once you’ve found it, breathe in and out deeply and feel the sensation of being stabilized on the ground then redirect your energy.
Imagine all of the energy in your body flowing into your center. Picture this energy as a glowing ball that you will throw far into the distance or perhaps a balloon that you will let float away above your head. Visualize putting all of your negative thoughts into the balloon or ball and then releasing it. Let go of everything that is causing you to feel stressed. As you inhale, say ‘I let…” and as you exhale, say “…go.”
Then, imagine your center filled with calm.
On your next inhalation, channel your energy. Think about what you want to achieve, use affirmations and focus on thinking positively. Redirect your energy there! Redirect your energy there! Make your vision so clear that your fears become irrelevant.
By following these tips and with calm breath and an open heart, you can conquer the world!
References: The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi. Simon & Schuster, 2001