Intentionally Pursuing Rest to Improve my Health and Manage Anxiety

I recently finished reading a book called Activate Your Vagus Nerve: Unleash Your Body’s Natural Ability to Heal by Dr. Navaz Habib. This book was recommended by my therapist to help me understand and heal my parasympathetic nervous system - the rest, digest, and recovery system in your body that helps you manage the impacts of chronic stress. As a highly sensitive person, it is easy for me to get overstimulated or to take on things that cause stress and put me in a state of fight or flight. Over time, this shows up in my physical and mental health. 

The vagus nerve allows us to relax and recover from the rigor and tasks of your day. It allows us to remain calm, decrease our heart rate, decrease our breath rate to take fuller breaths, and shunt blood flow away from the limbs and toward the internal organs. This allows our bodies to recover, remain calm, and even procreate. Overactivation of your sympathetic nervous system can lead to significant loss of function in the parasympathetic system, and this imbalance is what can lead you down a path of disease and dysfunction. 

I definitely recommend the book. I found it easy to read and very informative without being too dense. It has lots of science to help you understand what is happening and to back up the recommendations. I love that there are specific practices in the book that are available to everyone and don’t cost a lot of money. 

In addition to continuing to optimize in my nutrition, here are some of the strategies that I am planning to implement this year (and hopefully create some habits around):

  • Breathing exercises. I am learning to breathe through my nose and in my belly (see this video for a good introduction). I’m trying to practice this technique three times a day. This has already been a powerful way for me to manage my anxiety. I’m also considering exploring the method outlined on as a way to take it up a notch to help me manage stress.
  • Prioritize sleep. I bought a pair of blue light blocking glasses to wear in the evening to help improve my hormone health. You can find out more information about this at the Blublox website. I am sleeping on my side, creating a relaxing evening ritual that does not involve watching TV, and I’m not eating within 2-3 hours of sleep. I’m tracking my sleep with a Fitbit or an Oura ring, but you could use an app like Sleep Cycle for free.
  • Yoga. I am attending a weekly Yin Yoga class at my local studio and am loving this time to just be, attune to my body, and practice breathing. I’m also using Yoga with Adriene videos on youtube to break up my day and to help me relax in the evenings.
  • Mindfulness and meditation. I’m slowing down and have stopped multi-tasking. I’m deciding ahead of time what my priorities are (thanks to Brooke's teachings) and am tackling them one by one. I’m meditating each morning using the Waking Up app, but I’ve also used the Insight Timer for free and liked it. The intention of my meditation time is to be present with what is happening in my head, heart, and body. And I have let go of a perfect way to do this or a state of being that I am striving for.
  • Laughter and social connection. There are not enough things in my life that make me laugh out loud, and I'm working on fixing that! I’m also actively seeking to connect with more people I enjoy spending time with who make me laugh. I’ve reinstituted date night with my husband. Last week we even went to a comedy show!
  • Listen to music. I am not someone who usually puts some music on in the background, but I’m intentionally putting on some lo-fi study beats or Mozart a few times a week to relax. 
  • Daily movement, preferably outside. This is hard when it is wet and dark in the winter, but I am trying to do it at noon to get the most exposure to sunlight to help reset my biological cycles. I’m using my Oura ring to keep track of my heart rate variability - which evidently is the gold standard for measuring vagus nerve function. (You could also use the Inner Balance tool from HeartMath.)

These may seem completely obvious things you could do for optimal health. But for me, connecting these activities to my ability to manage my anxiety is very clarifying and motivating. My hope is that doing these things will create more ease in my life - which is my intention for the year. 

As an Enneagram 1, it is easy for me to take things too seriously and forget to relax. I carry a lot of tension, and most of the time am not aware of how it is impacting my body. Under consistent levels of stress, we produce high levels of inflammation and are not given the opportunity to recover and rest. Our bodies haven’t yet evolved the ability to distinguish between types of stressors, so mental and emotional stressors elicit the same response as would the presence of a physical threat to our survival. Focusing on this aspect of my health is allowing me to unlock several benefits, including increased connection with the people I love, better sleep, and more energy.

My hope and dream is that we can all operate at our optimal functioning. And sometimes that looks like focusing on your mental health, and sometimes it involves physical practices that give you access to more resources to handle the stressors you face. 


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