Your nervous system includes your brain, spinal cord and nerves. The autonomic, or involuntary, aspect of your nervous system has a sympathetic division responsible for "fight or flight" and a parasympathetic division that helps your body rest and carry out necessary functions. In cases of chronic stress or traumatic events, the sympathetic division becomes activated, leading to anxiety, digestive problems, muscle tension and feeling hyper alert. Natural ways of relaxing the sympathetic response include exercise, yoga, meditation, biofeedback, massage and acupuncture. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and get permission before trying exercise or alternative therapies.
Start an exercise program to reduce stress and help relax your nervous system over time. Choose activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, yoga, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting or swimming. Build up your fitness level gradually, starting with 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at a time. Aim for two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, or one hour and 15 minutes a week of high intensity aerobic activity.
Use mind-body exercises to relax your nervous system. Try yoga, tai chi or chi gong, which provide the benefits of exercising while helping to focus and calm the mind. Practice mind-body exercises several times a week, or daily if possible. Attend yoga or tai chi classes, practice with a DVD at home, or do a few poses as described in a book.
Use meditation that stimulates alpha brain waves associated with relaxation of the entire nervous system. Experiment with types of meditation, including concentration on the breath, mindfulness, emptying the mind, looking at an object, movement meditation, guided imagery and mantras. Practice meditation in a quiet place using a comfortable position. Meditate around the same time each day for five minutes to a half hour.
Try biofeedback, a technique that trains people to control aspects of their physiology including heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature and brain wave activity. Use biofeedback to reduce stress-related symptoms such as high blood pressure, tension headaches, migraines, chronic pain and incontinence. Consult a biofeedback specialist, who may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or other type of physician, to get treatment.
Try to calm your nervous system with acupuncture, which reputedly releases pain-killing endorphins, oxygenates tissues, and enhances circulation to help remove cortisol and waste products from stress. Seek out a licensed acupuncturist who specializes in stress and anxiety for the best results.