By Erika Lundgren, Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Communication is key to any relationship, however, the one between our Vagus Nerve (VN) and our organs as part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is vital to our life. From swallowing to regulating critical bodily functions, such as digestion and heart rhythm, to sending signals back and forth from the brain to our internal organs; the
VN when functioning optimally is a communication superstar. But, what happens when our sympathetic nervous system is “bogarting” the internal conversation due to our chronic stressful state? The VN becomes more inhibited and feelings of calm become a “mute” point because our “fight or flight” response is leading the conversation.
Luckily for us there are calming, balancing practices that can help stimulate or “tone” our VN to soothe the stress response when those feelings arise and help bring the body back to balance.
Tap your stress away! Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) – There are many videos online demonstrating this technique consisting of using your fingers to tap on acupressure-based meridian areas.
Create joyful noises! The VN is connected to our vocal cords and throat muscles; sing, hum, gargle and chant your stress away.
Slow, deep belly breathing. Breathe in deeply from your diaphragm, expanding your stomach outward then exhale long and slow. Try reducing your breaths to 6 per minute (most of us take 10-14 breaths) to increase relaxation.
Massage. As if you need another reason to get a massage! Reflexology is great here too! 5. Spend time with your tribe who make you belly laugh! Laughter has been shown to increase your heart-rate variability which increases vagal tone. Win-win!
High quality probiotic. Gut health = Brain health, which makes populating your microbiome a necessity! Of course, incorporating pre- and probiotic foods, such as asparagus, fermented veggies or kefir, in your daily intake is important as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Critical for brain & mental health with high fish consumption being associated with “enhanced vagal activity and PNS predominance.” Sources: salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, herring, Atlantic mackerel, cod liver oil
Slow, flowing movements … Joyful movement in the form of exercise is a no-brainer when it comes to the health benefits (as long as you don’t over do it and perpetuate the stress response), but practices like Tai chi or yoga are the ticket when it comes to driving the PNS and calming the nervous system.
Cold exposure. Make you reconsider cold showers? Try turning the knob to cold for 30 seconds at the end of your shower or wash your face with ice-cold water and see how you feel.
Mindful Meditation. A quick 3-minute time out will help stimulate your vagus nerve, but why stop there … Create a daily practice of focusing on present moments and improve your entire being!
Johnson, R. L., & Wilson, C. G. (2018). A review of vagus nerve stimulation as a therapeutic intervention. Journal of inflammation research, 11, 203–213. https://doi.org/10.2147/JIR.S163248