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  • Writer's pictureGail Weiner

Remember to chill

We are all familiar with the flight or fight response on our nervous system and how being in this state for too long can create mental and physical health issues.

We are however less familiar with flight or fights polarity which is the rest state.

Our nervous system contains the Sympathetic nerve system (flight or fight) which is heightened when we encounter a threat, obviously this used to be a bear in the village but now it is a work email that needs attention, boss screaming, kids requiring homeschooling and on and on.

The Parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest and is associated with relaxation, digestion, and regeneration. For example, your breathing, heart rate, and body temperature are regulated by this system.

Overall a feeling of relax and calm is created when in the parasympathetic state.

The vagus nerve is a branching nerve connecting your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs. It originates in the brain and branches out in multiple directions to the neck and torso, where it's responsible for actions such as carrying sensory information from the skin of the ear, controlling the muscles that you use to swallow and speak and influencing your immune system. The vagus nerve has been described as largely responsible for the mind-body connection, for its role as a mediator between thinking and feeling.

So when people say ‘trust your gut’, it really means ‘trust your vagus nerve’.

The vagus nerve plays a critical role in influencing the parasympathetic nervous system.

Ideally, your Sympathetic and Parasympathetic actions are meant to function in rhythmic alternation, a process that supports healthy rhythms of alertness and restfulness that facilitate physical and mental health. In modern culture, our lifestyle often makes it difficult to flip back to the parasympathetic state once the sympathetic has been activated.

Here’s some tips on activating your Parasympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve -

  1. Cold Exposure - Expose your body to acute cold conditions, such as taking a cold shower, ideally jumping into the cold ocean or a lake or just splash cold water on your face. While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity declines, while parasympathetic activity increases.

  2. Deep and Slow Breathing - Deep breathing activates specific neurons that detect blood pressure. These neurons signal to the parasympathetic system that blood pressure is becoming too high, and the vagus nerve in turn responds by lowering your heart rate.

  3. Laughter - The benefits of laughter are believed to be rooted in our nervous system. Any type of laughter stimulates diaphragmatic breathing, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Just ten minutes of laughter is sufficient to trigger mental and physical health benefits

  4. Visualization - Use visualization and imagery to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Picture yourself in a peaceful place that you love. It could be the ocean at sunset, a mountain stream, a beautiful lush forest, a secluded beach, a field of wildflowers, or any place you enjoy and feel relaxed. Use all your senses as you visualize the place in this imagery. Hear the sounds of the waves, feel the breeze on your face, and smell the scent of the flowers. You’ll feel relaxed in no time at all.

  5. Singing, Humming, Chanting and Gargling - activate your vocal cords and the muscles in the back of your throat, which are connected to the vagus nerve.

  6. Probiotics. - The gut microbiota has significant influence over the activity of the vagus nerve. It also serves as the chief link between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain in a relationship known as the brain-gut axis, which controls various psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are increasingly being linked to gastrointestinal problems and inflammation. Keep your gut healthy.

  7. Meditation - it will bring your body in a state of calm, telling your nervous system that there is no need for a fight-or-flight response, thereby increasing rest and relax state.

  8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids - The EPA and DHA found in fish oil are capable of increasing heart rate variability as well as lowering heart rate and activating vagus nerve.

  9. Exercise - your heart rate will go up but stabilise and take you into parasympathetic state. Ideally yoga, walking or brief bursts like a HIT class.

  10. A good cry - The parasympathetic nervous system activates the lachrymal glands of the eyes to stimulate tears, and it also stimulates the production of saliva and digestive fluids. That’s why you often feel very calm after a good cry.

  11. Massage - Even a gentle foot massage can re-balance the vagus nerve and help to lower blood pressure.

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