Practices to Calm Your Nervous System

April 1, 2020

Yesterday Milly suddenly felt super overwhelmed. I don’t remember what go her so worked up, but she went into full freak out mode.

I wanted to help her without making her feel bad about the emotions she was having, so I said, “Milly, hold my hand and give it a squeeze until you feel better. I’ll give you a squeeze back until you tell me to stop.”

Within 30 seconds, she’d calmed down and said, “I feel a lot better, mommy.”

We’re all Milly right now.

No matter how introverted you are, social distancing and isolation can wear on you.

I know that for me, I feel it in waves.

Some days I feel ok. I feel like I’ve got a handle on things. It’s hard but I’m ok.

Then other days, I go online looking for paint for my kids who are now home for the forseeable future and it’s out of stock everywhere, which throws me into a state of panic.

If you feel like your mood and emotions are swinging wildly back and forth, please know you’re not alone.

I might not be able to hold your hand in real life, but I am here, holding space for you to feel whatever you need to feel and to support you in any way I can.

What Milly and the rest of us are experiencing is what’s known in Ayurveda as a vata overload. We’re anxious and afraid, ungrounded and anxious.

We feel enormously out of control and it feels as though the future is uncertain.

Plus, we’re isolated, which disconnects us from the people who make us feel like we’re a part of something bigger. Hugs are potentially life-threatening behaviors if not from our immediate family.

Honestly, it’s just scary.

What balances vata is kapha and pitta.

When vata is spiraling out of control, Kapha helps to ground vata and bring her back into her body while pitta gives vata some structure and focus, plus a little taste of control back.

I’ve put together a list of activities you can do to help calm some of your anxiety and limit vata’s power.

Practices to Calm Your Nervous System

Lie Down on Your Back, Knees Bent and Eyes Closed

Place your hands on your belly and your heart. Breathe naturally. Stay for 10 breaths or for as long as you need.

Bonus practice: Do a restorative yoga pose for 8-15 minutes.

Kapha increasing

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Exercise

Take a moment to answer these 5 questions: List 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste

Pitta increasing

Create Something

You can draw a picture, color in a coloring book, knit a scarf, build with legos. Do something that you have to create.

Kapha increasing

Read a book

More specifically, read something offline.

Pitta + Kapha increasing

Move your body

Do yoga. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Dance in your kitchen. Do jumping jacks or squats.

If the movement is intense and challenging or makes you sweat, it’s Pitta increasing.

If the movement is more calm, slow, steady, and grounding, it’s kapha increasing.

Go for a walk in the woods or in nature

Feel the sun on your skin. Go puddle jumping if it’s raining. Walk barefoot in your backyard. Even if you just take your laptop outside and do work outside, that can mitigate some of the vata that usually increases if you’re online all day.

Kapha increasing

Seek out laughter

Whether you’re watching old SNL skits or reading a funny blog or telling knock-knock jokes with your kids, laughter is the best medicine. Be silly. Try to find moments that you can be ridiculous on purpose.

Usually laughter increases vata, but the highest form of vata is joy. Another way to look at it is that our vata emotions exist on a spectrum from anxiety and fear to delight and joy. When vata is excessive and creating stress, you’ll feel it as anxiety or fear. When vata is high and also balanced by your other doshas, you experience joy.

So laughter is an expression of healthy vata.


I hope this helps give you a few touchstones when you’re feeling unsteady and afraid. Please use these practices to calm your nervous system. You can give yourself support when you need it, ways to reground when your vata is out of control.

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