Anyone else have a strong connection to their gut? Butterflies when you’re excited, a pit or sinking feeling down low when you hear bad news… or a belly ache when life is coming at you too hard or fast? Some people even have to run to the restroom when dealing with a difficult situation.
These are all examples of a hyper sympathetic, or fight or flight response. The most notorious and longest of your 12 cranial nerves, the vagus nerve, leaves your skull and sends signal down to all of your vital organs, including your lungs, heart, and digestive tract. That ancient protective path of the body that enables you to run away from a threat diverts blood and energy away from your digestion and sends it out to your limbs, raises your heart and breathing rates, opens your pupils, and may even cause your bowel or bladder to empty quickly.
For many of us, the need to run away from a threat doesn’t come very often, but stress in life doesn’t ever seem to stop. Our boss wants or needs us to do more, sleep is hard to come by, children are whiny or demanding, the other drivers on the road are crazy, etc. etc. etc. For the vast majority of Americans, living in a constant state of fight or flight has become the norm. This is incredibly draining of our energy, and for some of us keeps us so wired that we can’t sleep properly. Our bodies’ physiological requirements to fuel this state of fight or flight are difficult to keep up with and make us crave sweets, carbs, and caffeine to get through our days. Often times, these foods are the opposite of the ones that would boost our immune system and help heal our gut. So a vicious cycle continues, and our leaky guts and poor digestive systems send undigested proteins out of our intestines, which can cause a host of problems including autoimmune problems, mental health issues, and of course pain.
So when we can’t slow down in life, how do we decrease our stress and improve the signal of our vagus nerve? We need to signal to our brains that we are safe. Here are 10 great ways to improve the tone of the vagus nerve:
Dr. Sheena grew up in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota and completed her undergraduate studies in Architecture, Chemistry, and Sustainability at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.