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4 Ways to Stop Anxious Thoughts in Their Tracks & Access The Parasympathetic Nervous System

I have found these techniques have many health benefits including help with fertility and all of the anxious thoughts that come along with it.

The scenario:

You are at home waiting for a loved one's flight to land. You keep checking the status but can't get an update. Your mind is goes down a rabbit hole, imagining all of the horrible things that could have happened. Before you know it you are playing out a horror movie in your head, a movie that hasn't happened.

However what is going on in your mind sends a signal to your body that it actually is happening. Because your body can't tell the difference between reality and your imagination.

Before you know it you are in "fight or flight" response, activating the sympathetic nervous system- the system that should only be activated on occasion, for survival, when you are in real danger. If it is "turned on" too often and for too long, the results show up in your body as minor health problems like skin or stomach issues, nagging pains, and headaches, then eventually chronic diseases and (just a "hunch") fertility issues.

What we want to focus on instead, in these scenarios is stopping your mind in its tracks and accessing the parasympathetic nervous system- the system responsible for rest, digest, and relaxation. The system that allows cells to regenerate and your body to operate in a balanced homeostasis.

Here are some easy ways to do just that- that I have acquired through yoga teacher training and through my own trial and error.

So that the next time you are driving alone in your car or you are sitting in a doctor's office, and your mind starts spiraling, you know what to do.

1. Box Breathing

Endorsed by the navy seals, it is a simple technique they use to stay calm and focused before and after combat. Picture a box or square with 4 sides. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. 4, 4, 4, 4. Repeat for a few minutes or as many times as needed. Remember that on a stormy ocean there is always stillness beneath surface of the waves, and breath is how you access that within yourself.

2. Alternate Nostril Breathing

An ancient yoga practice used to generate balance in the body and I have found that because it takes a good amount of focus, it takes my mind off other things. Raise your right hand to your face. Place the thumb of that hand on your right nostril, inhale through your left nostril, close left nostril with that hand's pinky, release thumb and exhale through right nostril. Inhale through right nostril, close it with your thumb, release pinky and exhale through left nostril. Then start again, doing as many rounds as you want. Click here for a guided visual of this.

3. Compassion Meditation

This works a lot like prayer. When you focus on sending love to someone else it takes your mind off yourself and counteracts stress signals. Close your eyes (if you are somewhere that you can) in a seated position and take some deep breathes while sending love to yourself and then someone you know. It can be a best friend or someone you are having a hard time with. As you picture them in your mind, repeat these words (in your head or out loud) "may you be happy, may you be free". Traditionally in this practice you will repeat these words using the progression below, but if it's easier to focus on just one in the moment I have found that still works.

  1. oneself

  2. a good friend

  3. a neutral person (like your mailman)

  4. a difficult person

  5. all four of them equally

  6. and gradually the entire universe

4. Positive Imagery

Simply put, it's going to your happy place. It's lowering your blood pressure through visualization of a different setting than the one you are in. Take a deep inhale and exhale and imagine a favorite place- the beach, a spot in your home, your favorite vacation- something calm and happy that makes you go "ahhh". Now close your eyes and slowly walk yourself through every detail of that spot using all 5 of your senses. For instance if it is the beach-imagine what the sand feels like on your toes, the smell of salt & seaweed in the air, the taste of your favorite cocktail, the sounds of waves and seagulls, the pink sunset melting over horizon. Allow your mind to really imagine and feel every single tiny detail as if you are in that moment, then slowly come back to the room you are in and to your relaxed body.


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