Activating The Parasympathetic Nervous System
One word: relaxation. This can sum up what the parasympathetic nervous helps the body do. From dilating the pupils, slowing heart rate, and stimulating digestion and bile release, the parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect of the "flight or fight" response associated with the sympathetic nervous system.
Below is a graphic of how they yin and yang throughout the body.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, it produces a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body. People can learn to trigger their parasympathetic nervous system to immediately reduce their sense of anxiety and stress. This also lifts their mood, strengthens their immune system, and reduces their blood pressure.
There are many techniques that a person can use to strengthen and activate their parasympathetic nervous system, causing a relaxation response in their body. For example:
- Spend time in nature
- Get a massage
- Practice meditation
- Deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm
- Repetitive prayer
- Focus on a word that is soothing such as calm or peace
- Play with animals or children
- Practice yoga, chi kung, or tai chi
- Try progressive relaxation
- Do something you enjoy, such as a favorite hobby
A Few More Ways to Activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System
Gently Touch Your Lips
Your lips have parasympathetic fibers spread throughout them, so touching them activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Take one or two fingers and lightly run them over your lips.
Be Mindful – Don’t Multitask
Try not to multitask and be mindful of what you are doing. Toni Bernhard in her book, How To Be Sick – A Buddhist Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, Korean Zen master Seung Sahn who liked to tell his students, “When reading, only read. When eating, only eat. When thinking, only think.”
Use visualization and imagery to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Picture yourself in a peaceful place that you love. It could be the ocean at sunset, a mountain stream, a beautiful lush forest, a secluded beach, a field of wildflowers, or any place you enjoy and feel relaxed. Use all your senses as you visualize the place in this imagery. Hear the sounds of the waves, feel the breeze on your face, and smell the scent of the flowers. You’ll feel relaxed in no time at all.