What Is The Vagus Nerve?
“Fight or Flight” vs. “Rest and Digest”
Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, the way in which the body reacts to stress or danger. Many, however, have never heard of the “rest and digest” response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a brake. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.
When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
The less time we spend in the sympathetic response mode, the better. Although it makes us alert and better able to respond to the challenges ahead, it takes a huge toll on our bodies after a while and can lead to imbalances. Anything we can do to keep ourselves in the “rest and digest” mode as much as possible is worth the effort because it affects your long-term health.
Learning to activate your vagus nerve, and thus your parasympathetic nervous system, can reduce the stress on your heart, digestive system, immune system, etc. This will not only make you a happier person, it will allow you to more effectively respond to the emotional and physiological symptoms of your brain and mental illness.
What Does The Vagus Nerve Do Exactly?
The vagus nerve has fibers that connect with virtually all of our internal organs. The management and processing of emotions happens via the vagus nerve between the heart, brain and gut, which is why we have a strong gut reaction to intense mental and emotional states.
Vagus nerve dysfunction can result in a whole host of problems including obesity, bradycardia (abnormally slow heartbeat), difficulty swallowing, gastrointestinal diseases, fainting, mood disorders, B12 deficiency, chronic inflammation, impaired cough, and seizures.
Meanwhile, the vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to improve conditions such as:
The Vagus Nerve flows throughout the body to perform the following tasks:
Suspect you may have low vagal function? Book a healing session to trigger your body’s natural healing abilities.
The Vagus Nerve can be overactive as well as underactive. Most people have an underactive Vagus, also known as lacking vagal tone, because we are often in stress response, whether from internal stress (fighting infections, stressful thoughts) or external stress (traffic jams, news, arguments). If the vagus nerve is overactive, we may become overly sensitive and emotional. The nerve can be damaged or underdeveloped through trauma or insufficient production of oxytocin, which is first produced through bonding with our caregivers as an infant.
The vagus nerve plays a critical role in influencing your stress response, mood, immune function, digestion, and heart rate.
It also serves as the chief link in the relationship between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. These roles mean the vagus nerve is a modulator of various psychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are increasingly being linked to gastrointestinal problems and inflammation.
By stimulating the vagus nerve, you can send a message to your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which leads to long-term improvements in mood, wellbeing and resilience.