• Kacie Hill LAc

THE MOST NEGLECTED PART OF THE BODY: YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM

Updated: Sep 7



Do you wake up with racing thoughts and a pounding heart?

 

Maybe you lay awake at night with a million thoughts running through your head of the what happened today or all that you ‘have’ to do tomorrow.


 

Maybe you experience constipation, diarrhea, ‘IBS’ or other digestive concerns despite eating a healthy diet.


 

If the above sounds familiar, there's a good chance you have an imbalanced nervous system.


 

Our nervous system guides nearly everything we do as it is the literal connection between the brain and the body. It affects our:


  • thoughts and emotions

  • movements, balance and coordination

  • senses (how our brain interprets what we see, hear, taste, touch, feel)

  • heartbeat + breathing

  • sleep, healing, aging

  • digestion

  • hormones


So how is it that this system that is involved in nearly every aspect of being a human has become so neglected?


Our modern day lives are more stressful than ever. We’ve become a society that lives by the mottos of:

‘we'll sleep when we’re dead’

‘work hard, play hard’


And it's this ‘hustle’ mentality is making us sick, sad, depressed and anxious.


Many of us push ourselves to the brink of burnout or until our body’s and minds are on their last nerve (see what I did there - cuz this is about your nervous system? heh heh).


Some of us stay in this rollercoaster loop of hustle and burnout while others start to realize that there’s got to be a better way.


And I’m gonna guess that’s why you’ve found yourself here! And I'm here to show you that there is indeed a better way. One where you wake up feeling more calm and relaxed, you can fall asleep at night, and not have anxious, ruminating thoughts plaguing your mind all day.

 

NERVOUS SYSTEM MANAGEMENT IS STRESS MANAGEMENT.


And this sh*t right here is non-negotiable. Either you manage it or eventually... it will manage you. Our nervous system is the messenger that takes in our external environment (what we hear, see, feel, smell, taste) and sends it to the brain for evaluation. Our nerves then carry the brain's message out to different parts of the body in order to react and move.


  • Are you sensitive to sound, light or too many people? That's a sign your nervous system is overloaded.

  • Are you wired but tired? That's a sign your nervous system is nearing burnout.

  • Are you hangry, irritable and feel stagnated most of the time? That's a sign.... you get it.


I'll be the first to say, stress management is not a sexy topic, it may even sound cliche and have your eyes glossing over as if someone told you to... 'just eat healthy and exercise'.


But what if I told you it's one of the MOST important aspects of your health?


And most of us suck at it! We weren't taught stress hygiene growing up. Self-care hasn't become trendy until the recent dawning of the instagram 'boss babe' burnout culture.


If you want to live a healthier and happier life (and let's be real.. who doesn't?), stress management has to become a daily practice, a habit, a non-negotiable. Hands in the air if self-care like meditation, exercise, journaling or eating healthy are the first things that go out the window when life gets busy or stressful! You gotta work on making it a solid habit that is as routine and necessary as brushing your teeth.


Choosing to prioritize stress management and self-care means taking care of your nervous system every day. It's like releasing the pressure valve a little bit to keep things at baseline so you don't explode. When you fall behind on 'self-care' and stress management, it can quite literally feel like you're a balloon on the verge of spontaneously combusting, amiright? Your kid could ask you a question, you could spill the milk and it's a game-over, total meltdown moment. You feel out-of-control.


Instead of getting to that point and living in a state that has everyone around you walking on eggshells, you can learn and utilize the tools to release that pressure little-by-little.


This will improve not only YOUR life but that of your kids, friends, partner, parents, coworkers and anyone you come in contact with.


I GET IT. IT'S HARD AND YOU'RE BUSY.


Never before have we been expected to do SO much, perform and be ‘successful’ at work, manage the kids, have time for our partners, friends and families, and to do it all with a smile on our faces.


We’ve never been more disconnected from our environment as most of our jobs have us stuck inside or in front of a computer all day. We rarely spend time in nature with our feet in the dirt, sand or grass which is so important for us as humans in order to feel grounded.


We eat fast and processed foods while cooking at home becomes a lost art instead of a consistent part of our self-care routine. Many of us are glued to our phones or tv’s and spend our spare time scrolling on social media and watching Tiktok videos.


We are overstimulated by the information that our nervous system is taking in and it results in anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, digestive disorders, and overall dis-ease in the body.


And as much as everyone wants to take a pill to cure every ill, I gotta break it to you my friend, with health, it's almost never that easy without serious side effects. I'll be giving you bite-sized tips and information to help you tune back into your natural environment and stabilize your nervous system so you can thrive in the life that you've been trying to create.


How Does Stress Effect The Body

Stop Short-Circuiting Your Circadian Rhythm

Consequences of Circadian Rhythm Disruption

How To Fix It

 

Before we talk about how to fix it, it's important to understand our stress response and why our bodies respond the way they do.


HOW DOES STRESS EFFECT THE BODY?

(aka why is this important)


The short answer is…. “in every way imaginable.”


When we experience stress, a cascade of different physical and chemical signals happen in the body. It stimulates our sympathetic nervous system which is commonly known as the ‘Fight, Flight, Freeze’ response.


The sympathetic nervous system acts like the gas pedal in a car. It triggers the production of cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones that ramp up the body with a burst of energy in order to focus and react to perceived 'dangers' or changes in our environment. It can also become triggered after trauma, chronic illness or infections or excessive exercise.


Most of these changes happen so quickly we aren't aware of them:


  • The heart beats faster, pushing blood to the muscles

  • Pulse rate and blood pressure go up

  • Breathing becomes more rapid

  • Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper

  • Pupils dilate

  • Blood sugar and fats are released from temporary storage sites in the body to be used as energy


In a healthy or acute stress response, once the threat passes, cortisol and the rest of the stress hormones decrease as the parasympathetic nervous system— aka the "brakes" — kicks on to dampen the stress response.


Now with CHRONIC STRESS, there are no brakes. We are stuck in sympathetic and "go" mode. We can only engage one mode at a time (sympathetic or parasympathetic), there is no half-and-half. So imagine burning your car into the ground, pedal to the metal, no gas or oil.


That's what it's like in our bodies when we are in constant stress/survival mode and can result in feeling:


irritable

exhaustion

burned out

poor sleep

low sex drive

wired but tired

constipation

digestive issues like SIBO or leaky gut


Your body isn't trying to poop or reproduce when it's in survival mode. Those functions are put on the backburner.


We may not be running from a lion these days but so many are in chronic fight-flight mode due to: multitasking, eating at our desks or in the car, running to pick the kids up from school, scrolling on our phone while watching tv and filling up our ‘rest’ time with ‘doing’ instead of simply ‘being’. Our bodies don't know the difference.


Many of us can’t even eat or poop without scrolling on our phones as we’ve become addicted to ‘doing’ since we are stuck in that sympathetic state.


Ever try to poop or eat without your phone?.. See how big of a challenge it is for you!

Ask yourself why it is that you need to be 'doing' something all the time.


We use external sources (alcohol, sex, tv, scrolling, caffeine, adderall) to satiate this stimulated state and find it hard to be in total silence or sit completely still because we have become addicted to stimulation.

Ever try meditating and feel like giving up after 2 minutes?


That’s because your body isn’t used to being still, it feels foreign so your sympathetic turns on in defense mode. Your mind overflows with mental chatter from all the planning, problem solving and thinking you do throughout the day. We think all of this is helpful and we can get more done by over-analyzing but in reality, we work better when we are in a more relaxed state of flow.


It is going to take practice and repetition to rewire our nervous system and switch on the parasympathetic chill mode. But let me tell you from experience, YOUR SANITY IS SO WORTH IT.



STOP SHORT-CIRCUITING YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM


So you get it, stress is bad mmkay. Now that I'm off my soapbox, let's switch gears and talk a little science and biology.


So, cortisol, one of the main players in the Sympathetic stress response, tends to get a bad rap as it’s associated with stress and weight gain but it’s absolutely necessary in order for us to function. It's only when it's out-of-balance that it becomes a problem.


It plays a huge part in our circadian rhythm, the 24 hour internal clock that controls every aspect of human health.



A healthy circadian rhythm dictates our sleep-wake cycle so that we're awake and focused during the day and sleepy at night. It gets the gut ready for food digestion during the day and helps us not to feel hungry when we are asleep. When we are out of alignment, it can cause a domino effect that can disrupt everything from our digestion, appetite, mood, focus, temperature, hormones, and blood pressure.


It determines when we are most alert, most coordinated and have the most muscle strength. Body temperature, blood pressure and even our immune systems operate on this 24-hour schedule, guided by the circadian rhythm.


HOW DOES IT WORK


Sunlight is detected by special cells in the back of our eyes. In a healthy system, this sends a signal to the brain which tells the body to produce cortisol to wake us up. As the sunlight fades at the end of the day, cortisol decreases and melatonin increases, making us get sleepy.


Now, how many of you are actually waking and sleeping with the sun? In modern times, I reckon very few of us.


It’s funny that Thomas Edison is coined with saying:

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will instruct his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

Yet his invention of the lightbulb has massively disrupted our natural cycles of sleep/wake that predisposes us to so many diseases and metabolic consequences.


Most modern humans stay up later than the sun, with all the lights in our houses on, using our phones, tv’s or computers until we fall asleep. This excessive light stimulation causes cortisol secretion at the wrong times!


We want cortisol to peak at it's highest within an hour of waking in the morning to give us energy throughout the day. Cortisol should decrease throughout the day and allow for melatonin to kick in at night. If we have too much cortisol (aka too much light later in the day) we won't produce as much melatonin resulting in poor sleep and a disrupted circadian rhythm. It will also give us a higher perceived stress level.


CONSEQUENCES OF A DISRUPTED CIRCADIAN RHYHTM

  • Increased blood sugar

  • Sugar cravings

  • Increased hunger

  • Reduced ability to burn fat

  • Increased permeability of gut lining (aka ‘leaky gut’)

  • Weakened immune system

  • Disrupted HPA-axis, which causes hormonal imbalances, stress, and much more

  • Reduces DHEA, testosterone, growth hormone and TSH levels

  • Increases belly fat and fatty liver

  • Causes depression, anxiety and mood imbalances

  • Contributes to cardiovascular disease

And it's your nervous system that ties all of this together. This is why it's SO important to dial in your circadian rhythm, otherwise you're running your body at half capacity at all times. You're fighting against nature instead of flowing with your human nature.


SO WHAT DISRUPTS THE CIRCADIAN RHYTHM?

  • Too much light at night

  • Too little light exposure in the morning and during (working indoors)

  • Shift work (night shifts)

  • Jet lag and time change

  • Staying up late

  • Alcohol

  • Eating when it’s dark out

  • Sleeping in late

  • Medications


How many of the above apply to you? Some of these can be hard to avoid but many of them require habit change. And habit change is hard!


This is why I ranted and rabbit holed about the state of the human condition at the beginning. These are the habits we've created. And it may feel UNCOMFORTABLE to change your current habits but I'd make a wager that it's pretty uncomfortable to stay in your current state.


What's the first place to start? By improving your sleep hygiene. Just like you have ‘personal’ hygiene like showering and brushing your teeth, you also have sleep hygiene. Our bodies LOVE routine so creating these into habits will be the most beneficial to you.



HOW TO FIX YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM


START BY:

  • Waking up earlier

  • Going to bed earlier

  • Getting sun in your eyes and on your skin within 45 minutes of waking

  • Spending more time outside during the day

  • Exercise in the morning instead of at night

  • Limiting screentime as much as possible and especially at night

  • Reading a real book at night instead of a screen

  • Using battery operated or non-toxic candles (non-blue light) instead of having bright lights on

  • Take breaks from staring at the screen during the work day (put a timer or alarm on your phone!)

  • Eat an earlier breakfast (7-9am) and an earlier dinner (5-7pm) (before the sun goes down)

  • Reduce sugar and processed carbs

  • Limit caffeine and no caffeine past noon

  • Keep the lights low or dimmed at night time

  • Eliminate all lights in the bedroom (standby lights on tv, alarm clocks, etc)

  • Put phone on airplane mode when going to bed to limit disruptions and EMF’s

  • Put Wifi on a timer to turn off at night


Start with the things that are easy to do like keeping the lights dimmed low, eliminating the lights in the bedroom or putting your phone on airplane mode. Then each week pick 1-2 things you want to work on. Perhaps you start getting in bed 30min earlier each week. Maybe you start taking walks after your dinner to help get outside and get your steps in.


You don't need to do EVERYTHING all at once but challenge yourself to start checking these off week by week or to be 1% better everyday!


When it comes to health, it's about all the little things you do each day (habits) that make a big difference!

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