Breaking out of a downward spiral takes conscious decision making and discipline. Yet, once you target the right spot it becomes surprisingly easy. Let me explain the connection between the nervous system, the gut and the brain in the post below.
Our nervous system undergoes a lot of stress on a daily basis in today’s society; social media, instant responding to messages on our phones, advertising through various channels, noise in the city and sharing space with many people can be overstimulating for the senses and leave us exhausted and stressed. The nervous system influences just everything: the digestion, the function of our organs, the production of hormones, our sleep cycles. If we give our nervous system opportunities to rest, the quality of our life will automatically improve on all levels.
Firstly: do nothing!
Doing nothing is easier said than done. What does it mean to rest and why has it become so hard for us? To start with, it needs a conscious choice. Allow yourself to rest. If your nervous system is already overstimulated, it is hard at first to rest. Most people exhaust their nervous system to the point they fall asleep, often in front of the tv or computer. The rest you get is not quality rest or sleep but being deeply exhausted. Quality rest needs a bit of practice. Once you switch off the phone or tv or computer and try to sit with yourself, the mind will very likely go crazy at first. Don’t give up straight away! The mind absorbs endless impressions through all sensory channels during the day. Once you try to meditate or sit still, a storm will break out in the mind. It is as if you reverse the direction of your vacuum cleaner; instead of absorbing impressions, it all of a sudden starts blowing dirt out all over the place! If you know that this will happen at first, it helps. Also know that the mind will become more quiet after a while. Impressions need to be cleared out. Emotions want to be acknowledged. This takes practice. You can learn to clear impressions out and let them go. A spacious feeling of calm will be the reward. You will feel much lighter. Your sleep will improve and you will be able to enjoy new experiences more.
Sounds good? So how do you start?
- Allow yourself to rest. If you feel resistance or discomfort when even thinking about resting, it is a sign that resting was very likely nothing positive in your childhood. Brainstorm what makes you think that you should be busy all the time. Explore your inner resistance. And then let that go. “I allow myself to rest.” – write that sentence down 10 times. Write it. Believe it.
- Make rest a daily habit. Start small; set yourself a timer everyday for 10 minutes. Sit or lay down for 10 minutes. It will take discipline for about two to three weeks, then it will become a healthy habbit.
- Don’t judge what happens during these 10 minutes! Most important point! If you judge your mind for being busy or your emotions for being not so positive, you undermine the whole purpose of rest. Allow what ever comes up to be there. Breathe and let it go.
- Journal about it. Note down questions. Focus on your process. Notice changes. And again: don’t judge.
- You can incorporate music in your time of rest. However I suggest to have some silence during this time, too. Make it a nourishing ritual. Maybe light an incense or a candle every time you rest or give yourself a face massage first. Involve the senses.
A practical tool that I recommend is a daily Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation that involves all of the above. It can be easier to practice these skills under the guidance of a teacher. You are welcome to attend my classes or use my online recordings. Please give yourself time to rest. It will influence your overall wellbeing and mental and physical health enormously.
Secondly: choose a healthy diet
The second biggest thing to influence your wellbeing positively is changing your diet. No, I’m not talking about going on a fashion diet or going hungry. Not at all. These practices are not sustainable. I am talking about making some simple changes with a big impact. The gut is our second brain. The gut is connected to our brain. If the bad gut bacteria take over, we suffer from inflammation, obesity, flatulence and feeling sluggish, unmotivated, pessimistic and often depressed. The gut influences our mind, our thoughts and our mental state of wellbeing way more than we acknowledge! If we find simple yet powerful ways to create a healthy gut flora, our wellbeing is supported in multiple ways.
I suggest the following steps to start with:
- Cut out refined sugar from your diet! This has been a game changer for me. Sugar makes our energy level spike and then fall rapidly. This influences our mood heavily and creates craving for sugar. Remind yourself that sugar is not good for you. Sugar feed the bad gut bacteria. Sugar is addictive. Have a healthy alternative ready during the first 3 weeks, a snack that you allow yourself while going off refined sugar. For example: dried apple rings (no added sugar, read the ingredients) or banana or dates or raisins or a nut – raisin mixture. It’s ok to snack and to give your body some energy – make a healthy choice. Observe your mood swings during the first week. I promise it will become so much easier in week two and take almost no effort in week 3. If you want to sweeten something, use coconut sugar instead or black strap molasses (contains iron). Dark chocolate has little sugar and is much more healthy than other chocolate. I wrote a whole blog post here about quitting sugar.
- Reduce your meat consumption. Become aware when you eat dead animal and make a conscious choice. There is no such thing as meat. Meat and all the different names for meat are all dead animals. Make the connection, and appreciate eating meat or chicken or fish. There are high levels of antibiotics (killing good gut bacteria!) and hormones in farmed animals. Also meat is heavy on the digestive system. Reduce your meat consumption for a month and see how you feel!
- Reduce your dairy consumption. There is no such thing as being lactose intolerant – you are just not a baby cow! It’s one of my favorite vegan slogans because it is so true! Don’t wonder if your body has trouble digesting dairy. Dairy is from another animal and actually not intended for the human body. Especially the dairy industry today is far from healthy and the practices cause immense suffering for the animals. The animals thus produce stress and fear hormones that end up in the milk. Give it a go – reduce dairy for a month and see how you feel!
- Eat more simply: steamed greens, salads, smoothies, fruit. Cook more at home and reduce processed foods. It’s good for the environment (less plastic and packaging) and great for your health. You give the body a chance to detox and you will feed the good gut bacteria! Very important; fermented foods such as coconut yoghurt, miso paste, Kombucha, sourkraut, kimchi, tofu support a healthy gut.
Maybe think about going vegetarian or vegan. It doesn’t have to be overnight. Every small step will give the body a break and support detoxification. There are countless great resources if you choose to go on a vegan diet and the vegan community is usually very supportive. Maybe join a facebook group or sign up for Veganuary. It can be so easy. I am passionate about animal rights, animal suffering and the influence of animal farming on the environment. If you are willing to do some research, here is a great resource: www.vegansociety.com
The good news here is that it doesn’t matter what kind of movement or how much. Just to take the pressure off to start with. It is not about developing a time consuming, irrealistic fitness programme that won’t survive week three of January! It is all about bringing some movement back into everyday life. Choose a type of movement that you enjoy! Choose something that requires minimal effort or discipline. 20 minutes per day of gentle yoga will make such a difference, believe me! Going for a 15 minutes walk in the morning or evening. Movement is the third point on the wellbeing list because rest is more important. Once you rested well and caught up on sleep, the need for movement comes automatically. Don’t feel bad if movement drops away on some days. Just keep reminding yourself that movement is powerful and keeps the body healthy. It gets Prana, life energy, flowing. With non-spiritual jargon: it gets your heart pumping, blood circulating, oxygen distributed. Simple. 20 minutes per day will make a big difference, especially in combination with rest and conscious diet choices!
And last but not least: stick to it! The body is grateful for healthy choices and it will take a while for changes to become visible. Very likely you will loose weight, the body shape might change, your energy levels will increase and your overall vitality and wellbeing will be higher. Give it time! Stick to the healthy habits and know that they will pay off. Don’t fall into the trap of expectations or certain outcomes – let the body regulate itself. Remember how many years of unhealthy habits need to be compensated for! Be gentle to yourself in thoughts and in actions.