Updated: May 29
Stress can be considered one of our greatest threats to our health in the modern world. In our current over-stimulated environment stress is all around us. The stress to perform, show up, keep updated, multitask, fit a certain image, balance work and play, be okay even if you're not, and handle everything that comes your way.
Even the sound of all that is stressful. However, it is important to know that you cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you respond to it. The modern world we live in may not be the healthiest environment to handle stress, but you do have the power to control how you respond to stress and can hack your nervous system to flow through life's challenges.
You cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you respond to it.
Touching A Nerve:
In order to combat stress, we need to tune into our body. When you get a gut feeling, or follow your heart, there is something in common. Before we connected these feelings to just listening to our intuition, but now through studying the mind-body connection, science is finding stronger links between the heart, gut and brain.
What's The Connection?
The link between the heart, brain and gut happens through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body linking the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut. It is a highway of motor (movement) and sensory fibers and branches out to interact with many other major organs including the kidneys, liver, spleen, gall bladder, reproductive organs, ears, eyes and tongue.
Only recently have experts begun to understand the vagus nerve's significance to human health. Weak vagus nerve functioning has been linked to symptoms of depression, epilepsy, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines and the research is on going. But one thing scientists know for a fact is that the vagus nerve plays a major role in governing the body's parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The PNS helps to control the relaxation response. When we are in fight or flight mode of sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated and causes the stress response. Though this function is helpful to us responding to a threatening situation, if our SNS is not turned off we can remain in a stressed response which causes many of the chronic stress related diseases we are experiencing today.
Therefore it is important after we respond to our threat to consciously relax our mind and body and return to a relaxed state. Heightened vagus activity slows the heart rate, reduces inflammation and strengthens the immune system all which is a resemblance of the PNS kicking back in so the body can relax and regain normal functions.
Stimulating The System:
Thankfully, the vagus nerve does not need and special training or skills to activate. It can be as simple taking a few deep breaths, walking in nature, laughing, or enjoying a soothing cup of tea or any relaxing activity to stimulate the vagus nerve.
There are also several points where the vagus nerve comes close to the skin. So touch, massage, or tapping is really beneficial to activating the nerve. You can try gently massaging the skin behind your ears or your feet, smiling and thinking of something that makes you happy or laugh is a great way to interrupt your negative thoughts and encourage positive thinking.
There are so many ways we can hack our system and calm the body and clear the mind. Though, of course it is not a substitute for proper treatment of more chronic problems, these self-soothing techniques are a great way to combat stress and keep your heart, brain, and gut happy!
Sing it out!
Because the vagus nerve connected to areas of the mouth and throat, activities like humming, singing, mantras, chanting, and even sighing all activate the PNS.
Listening to and singing along with our favorite music can also increase our endorphins and dopamine allowing us to feel happier and express our joyful self in the moment!
Massage is also a great way to promote relaxation! Learning self-massage techniques and areas where the vagus never run close to the surface is an easy way to calm your own mind and body and take a conscious moment to unwind.
You can start by gently massaging the ears and the skin behind them and the soles of your feet.
Moderate activities like walking or gardening are a great way to calm the gut and stimulate the vagus nerve.
Breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine, wind, and earth is also so important to supporting a healthy immune system. So get outside, play and enjoy!
Laugh Out Loud
Laughter is the best medicine! Laughter activates the vagus nerve and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression.
So watch your favorite funny movie, show, think of something that makes you smile and laugh and surrounded yourself by people who make you laugh and can let your goofy, playful side out!
Look After Your Gut
Your gut is directly connected to your heart and brain, so anything you can do do look after you gut is positive!
So be mindful of what foods you eat, how you eat, and how you feel after you eat.
Communication between your mind and gut is two-way so poor digestion could increase stress levels and vice versa.
Breathe Through It
Connecting to your breath is the simplest most effective way to activate the PNS and calm the mind and body.
Pausing to take a few deep breaths throughout your day or when you feel stressed or anxious allows your mind and body to recalibrate and signals to mind and body to relax.
So inhaleeeee, exhaleeee, and repeat....
Take A Cold Plunge!
It might sound crazy but cold immersion therapy can boost the immune system and stimulates the nervous system.
Ice baths aren't for everyone, but ending morning your shower with a cold rinse, splashing cold water on your face, or even talking a stroll early morning or on a chilly evening can do you a lot of good!