Why is the vagus nerve essential for wellbeing

flame illustration

Stress is individual and personal. You come out of the grocery store, and you see some smoke in the parking lot. When you look, you see a fire in an old abandoned building across the street. Suddenly you feel fear and a sensation in our stomach. Quickly you get the urge to rush and get out of there fast even though the fire is far away from you.

The fire brigade arrives, and they look driven. The firefighters run toward the abandoned building and the fire. Inside the firemen’s mind, there is not fear but excitement to go and do their job. They are calm and approach the situation with ease.

A news reporter hears the news of the fire and drives the News crew to the scene. They move fast and try to get to the fire scene as soon as possible. Inside the reporters’ minds is to get there quickly, hoping that they \are the first one new station to report the story.

You can see how people have very different reactions from three people in the same situation in the story. They all triggered stress for these three people, but the tension was interpreted differently by each person. The way we perceive events in our lives can trigger positive stress that helps achieve rewarding things or the opposite. We can trigger stress that promotes anxiety, fear, and illness.

Your autonomic nervous system has two basic modes that determine if your stress moves toward safety or towards the threat. The mode that links to safety is what we can call the well-being mode. When we feel safe, we create and connect positively with people and our environment.

The well-being mode links to the things we are attached to and what makes us feel comfortable. Your heart and your vagus nerve get positive feedback when you connect with positive connections. The vagus nerve is the nerve that plays a vital role in your stress management and the nervous system. For a healthier, happier life, you want to strengthen your vagus nerve.

The second mode is what we can call the defensive mode. Your brain gets activated and in high alert when it perceives a situation as threatening. This reaction is personal and individual. As you saw in the story I mentioned earlier about the fire, people have different responses to the same situation.

The more you activate the defensive mode, the more you increase stress, weakening the vagus the nerve. When you have a weak vagus, it’s called a low vagal tone. Having a vulnerable vagus nerve is linked to many physical and mental illnesses. When this is a chronic problem, your body doesn’t know how to turn off stress and damage your cardiovascular health.

All of us must do things that promote a healthy vagus nerve. It is also critical to create opportunities that deactivate the defensive mode when it has been turned unnecessarily. We all need skills to know how to turn off the threatening response.

One way to deactivate the defensive response is to work with the stress you created instead of against it. If you feel anxious and overwhelmed about situations, do not try to suppress it or ignore it. Your body created all this internal energy thinking you might have to run, fight, or flee to protect yourself. One of the best things you can do is to see how you can refocus the energy.

Please consider tricking your brain by finding a way to use that excessive energy. When you are stressed and anxious, You might notice this urge inside to act physically. Follow that by first creating a sense of safety. So move to a place that feels safe to you. Then mobilize the energy. How do you release your energy? You move your body.

This option is also personal. So you may want to do something that you enjoy that feels like a good release of energy. Maybe consider running in place or dancing. By finding a positive way to move, you will use the physical resources your body just triggered, so they don’t build up in your body

You will also control the release of the energy and get the well-being response to kick in. You can do this by letting all power out, and then you stop and connect with your breath. Focus on each inhalation and exhalation. You continue to stay focused on your breath until you feel calm and comfortable.

I have two activities that I like to do when I want to turn off my defensive mode. One is yoga, and the other is to sing alone in my car. I like to play music loud and sing out loud and dance. Sometimes I do it at home, but I prefer to do it in the car. I love singing my heart out and not worrying about how I sound. I dance, move, and I let it all out. I like to finish with a breathing practice that brings me to feeling centered.

One quote

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”

– Wayne Dyer

One question

Next time you mistakenly turn on your defensive response, how are you going to turn it off?

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