The vagus nerve, the human brain and, of course, how trauma, my favorite subject ever, has messed it all up.
#I don’t want to feel my emotions either. Yet here we are.
The top benefits of regulating our nervous systems are staying calm, producing clearer thoughts, and making better decisions during stressful situations. It helps reduce the need to reach for narcotics, nicotine, and alcohol to achieve an artificial relaxation experience. It helps us slow down.
Want to stop feeling like the trailer to the “Finest Hour”? Oh perfect… let's dive in shall we?
Opening Scene: FREEZE! Everything stops, your body locks up. Fight? Or Flight? Your heart rate begins to elevate and any steady stream of rational thought has leaped out of your ear, taking a hard left, then a right, hopping a fence and is now…gone. Sweat, lots of it, ruining your aesthetic. The mascara, mid-price and not waterproof.
Welcome to the Sympathetic Nervous System overdrive. This function kicks into action during times of alertness ranging from scary situations, perceived “scary situations,” and sometimes even seemingly harmless activities such as Exercise. It's not necessarily a bad place to be as it serves an important role in survival. It just feels pretty damn yucky. But what happens when we get stuck in that state of alert? When our constant state of being is just feeling so “yucky” that we don't even know that there are other ways to feel? When yucky is our baseline? When we can’t slow down? This, my love, is referred to as Survival Mode. Say hello to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my oldest friend.
One of the things happening here is that the Sympathetic Nervous system takes over our Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is in charge of our "rest and digest" state of being. So, why is this important? Well, I am so glad you asked. Staying stuck in “Sympathetic Nervous System Land” (as most people with PTSD do) will begin to wreak havoc on our bodies and create a huge mind-body disconnect causing:
- poor digestion -Fatigue
- Gastroparesis - Memory problems
- depression - Anxiety
- insomnia - Substance abuse
- and more serious issues leading to chronic illness, ex. Heat Disease
The Parasympathetic Nervous system is regulated by what we know to be the Vagus Nerve, which quite possibly plays one of the largest roles in human regulation and is the biggest cranial nerve in our body.
The Vagus Nerve is what connects the Brain and Gut together allowing extremely important forms of communication known as The Brain-Gut Axis to occur. At this point, researchers are calling the Gut your second Brain. In fact, 90% of Serotonin is produced in your gut leaving a lot of questions and research going into the correlation between Gut Health and Mental Health. But we will save that for another day.
By strengthening our Vagus Nerve, we give our bodies the chance to return to a state of homeostasis and slowly bring ourselves back from survival mode. We are also able to get back control over our Prefrontal Cortex, a.k.a our rational mind. According to Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Mind-Body Therapies have been seen to be extremely beneficial in people with PTSD. See what she recommends here.
Some of my favorite ways to calm my Vagus Nerve and activate my Parasympathetic Nervous system are through physical exercise (while focusing on my breath), meditation, sound baths, breathing techniques and Somatic Therapy. I have found “Box Breathing”, which is also great for anxiety, to be one of my favorites. Here is a guided video on box breathing.
Slowing down gets you back into your body and out of your head. Feeling chaotic and stressed all the time isn’t very “normal.” Think of your body like the ocean… How can a ship sail safely if the waters are raging? I am working on the tides and currents that crash my ships on a daily basis, I hope this helps your ships sail to safety too.