Tweaking Your Nervous System

Nancy B. Alston

Here’s the problem: A nervous system that wheezes and drags through life always leads to illness after illness, then to a miserable old age filled with doctor visits and lots of prescriptions–and, finally, the final curtain.

Why not avoid a lot of misery and woe? Most of what medicine calls aging is the result of nervous system issues, which can be reversed. So let’s talk about some little tweaks that give the nerves a happy boost.

1. Get good nutrition, both in your diet and a program of supplements tailored to do what your body needs it to do. Unfortunately, the facts about what constitutes good nutrition seem to be in the witness protection program, and almost nobody knows how it goes. Lots of us think we do, but no; we need to learn a better way.

Don’t take advice from programs like “The Biggest Loser.” Their off-track diet advice promotes poor health, not good health. Trainers vigorously do their best at what they were taught, fully persuaded it’s good information, but they’re wrong. Really wrong.

2. Breathe deeply–and correctly. We all know how to breathe, of course, but most of us take shallow breaths, while tweaking the nervous system takes deep, slow, rib-cage-expanding breaths.

Besides helping the nerves, this deep-breathing technique calms the body. Why spend the night being a whirling dervish instead of sleeping? Concentrating on the breathing technique stops your brain from jumping from one topic to another, which also helps.

3. Get cold once, or maybe several times, a day. Drink cold water. Put a wet, ice-cold wash cloth on your face for several seconds. To make the most of this cold business, take cold showers. Freezing in the shower takes things a little too far in my mind, but you may like it.

4. Sleep (or lie down) on your right side. This increases the variability of your heart rate and tweaks the king-of-the-nervous-system, the vagus nerve.

5. Sing! The louder the better. And singing in a group, whether in a choir, hymns in church, or enthusiastic pep songs, helps even more.

6. Gargle as often as possible. Don’t drink a glass of water without getting a gargle in.

7. Chew gum. Unfortunately, no-sugar gum contains aspartame, which whacks your nervous system, and regular chewing gum includes high fructose corn syrup, which is hard on lots of body parts. Some people tout gum sweetened with xylitol, but that’s instant diarrhea for some folks. So this is tricky business. But it’s worth the effort to hunt down something that works.

8. Laugh! The harder you laugh, the better it is. More than just getting into a happy mood, though, it’s about all the muscles that laughing relaxes and jiggles. has thousands of comedy clips in various categories. It would probably take a year to watch all the possibilities that show up when you search on “clean comedy.” Personally, watching Tim Conway’s dentist and elephant routines does the trick for me-no matter how many times I watch them.

9. Pet a dog, play with a child or embrace somebody. This helps your body release oxytocin, your I-love-the-world hormone.

10. Pray and meditate to mellow things out. Prayer and meditation actually create physical changes in our bodies, but it’s not a matter of doing it by rote. If you’re mad at the world when you start and still mad at the world when you stop, it doesn’t work. Maybe you need more practice.

11. Finally, coughing also moves muscles that benefit the nervous system.

So there you have eleven tweaks for your nervous system. (I left out one “helpful” tip about getting an injection into the brain that “might” work. Yikes!)

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