The nervous system is the body’s electrical wiring, made up of two circuits: the central nervous system (CNS), and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS is made of our brain and spinal cord, and the PNS is made of our nerves ganglia that branch off from the spinal cord to different parts of the body. The nervous system is the communication highway of the body, relaying messages between the brain and every other part of the body. And while mental health problems can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, the most important contributor to mental health is the state of your nervous system. If your nervous system isn't functioning properly, it can impact every aspect of your mental health.
Together, both the CNS and PNS systems control everything we do — both voluntary actions, like waving hello, as well as involuntary ones, like keeping our hearts beating. It regulates stress hormones and releases neurotransmitters, which influence how we feel everyday. It’s responsible for producing the neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are incredibly important chemicals that are essential for maintaining a stable mood and feeling joy. Nerve cells throughout our bodies relay information about what’s going on around us to our brains constantly, influencing our emotions moment by moment.
The human nervous system is designed to protect us from harm. When we sense danger, our body responds by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which then releases neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which have pain reducing effects, and stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. The parasympathetic nervous system can become out of control, when everything is calm and peaceful around us and we still feel it kick in. In the short term, this stress response can be lifesaving, but when it's constantly triggered by things like job insecurity, financial worries, or relationship problems, or other personal triggers, it takes a toll on our mental health which can lead to chronic stress.
Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorders and more. It can also worsen existing conditions such as asthma and migraines. Stress impacts both our physical and mental health; it weakens our immune system and makes us more susceptible to illness. It also interferes with our ability to think clearly and make good decisions.
While some stress is inevitable, there are things we can do to help manage it in a healthy way. One of the best ways to care for your nervous system is to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to be an effective way to cope with stress; it teaches you how to focus on the present moment instead of dwelling on past events or worrying about the future. Research has shown that these techniques can help reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.
Exercise is also a great way to release tension from the body and boost endorphins. Taking time each day for activities you enjoy — whether it’s reading, spending time outdoors or taking a yoga class — can also help reduce stress by giving you a chance to focus on something other than what’s causing anxiety.
If you find yourself struggling with chronic stress, it may be helpful to seek out counseling or therapy from a mental health professional who can teach you additional coping strategies. Learning how to manage stress in a healthy way will not only improve your quality of life but also safeguard your physical and mental health long-term. Taking care of your nervous system is the best way to take care of your mind and body, and by doing so, you’ll gain a more stress-free and joyful life.