First you may ask, “What exactly is the vagus nerve?” The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of all the cranial nerves. It runs from the brain through the face, the thorax, into the abdomen, and down to the colon.
Vagus (meaning wandering, in Latin) nerve got it’s name because it wanders about like a vagabond sending out sensory fibers all the way from your brain down to your vital organs.
This nerve is playing a very important role in your body and is crucial to your well-being. There are multiple nervous system functions for which it is involved in but major area it contributes to is the parasympathetic nervous system.
The four major areas that the vagus nerve functions in are:
Sensory: Communicating sensory information from your throat, heart, lungs, and abdomen.
Special Sensory: Providing taste sensation behind your tongue.
Motor: Permitting movement for your neck muscles allowing you to speak and swallow.
Parasympathetic: This system is responsible for your bodily functions while at rest such as metabolic functioning, digestion, heart rate, and respiration. Often called “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” because it activates your salivation glands, digestion, urination, and sexual arousal.
When this incredible nerve is functioning at it’s best it keeps your vital organs running smoothly. Your vagus nerve is regulating your blood pressure, blood glucose, your kidneys, women’s fertility (and ability to reach an orgasm,) sweating, breathing, and your heart rate.
Pretty important stuff, right? So what is happening when your vagus nerve isn’t operating at it’s best? When you heart rate is all over, your blood pressure is irregular, your breathing is off, and your stress is increasing?
While the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) promotes a feeling of calm and relaxation it’s counter system which often works in opposition is called the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which is responsible for what is known as the “fight or flight” response. This response sends out stress-releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and keeps you on high alert of possible dangers and allows you to take swift action.
While the sympathetic nervous system is very important, it is being shown that a high number of people are locked into this “fight or flight” response and as a result their bodies are being flooded with stress hormones. So what is causing so many people to get triggered so much that they might find themselves locked into a state of stress? One Harvard study shows “A stressful situation – whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as a persistent worry about losing a job – can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes.”
Unfortunately, our body does not know the difference between a “real” threat where we might have to run for our lives and simply being stuck in traffic, having an argument with someone, work problems, or family issues. The result is chronic stress which is which contributes to anxiety, depression, addiction, and a host of disease and disorders.
There are several ways to hack your vagus nerve to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Here are some quick and easy ways to kickstart your way back to homeostasis.
Breathe: Taking deep slow breaths sends signals to your body that you are safe and allows your parasympathetic system to take over.
Meditate: This is also a great way to stimulate the parasympathetic activity and increasing your vagal tone.
Get Grounded: Many find “earthing” to be helpful which is the act of throwing your shoes off and walking with your bare feet outside. The earth is a conductor, as are all living beings. The earth is negatively charged and emits what is known as negative ions and electrons. These negative ions and electrons help detoxify your body from free radicals, heavy metals, air pollution, etc. so it is a sort of healing treatment that is as easy as stepping outside.
Singing: Yep, singing helps too! In fact, singing, humming, and even gargling are all ways to that get you using your vocal chords and muscles in the back of your throat which activate your vagus nerve.
Learn To Say No: Taking on too much is one of the ways our sympathetic nervous system gets stimulated.
Get Organized: If you have a lot of responsibility, it is crucial to take time to get yourself organized. Stress hormones are activated when we perceive a threat which often shows up as an important deadline. I’m not only speaking to your entrepreneurs out there… mom’s have some of the busiest schedules between kids, school, activities, friends, family, maintaining a house, not to mention if they also have a job outside of the home. Taking time to plan, prioritize, and delegate helps to keep your stress levels in check.
Hypnosis: Since hypnosis uses a variety of methods it is highly effective in helping clients to trigger their vagus nerve. The real beauty in using hypnosis as a means to decrease stress is what takes place once the vagus nerve is activated and a client is in trance. Since hypnosis allows us to work with the subconscious part of your mind we can identify potential key areas whereby stressors could be reprogrammed, reframed, reduced, and potentially eliminate the need for a certain trigger in the first place.
If you are interested in joining me for some vagus nerve toning, check out my upcoming workshops and classes. Or if you prefer to work 1:1 feel free to set up a Clarity Call to see if hypnotherapy or coaching are right for you.