You’ll Never Heal Unless You Do This
I talk a lot about stress on the blog.
And on social media.
And with my clients.
That’s because managing stress is super-mega-endlessly important as you switch from Destruction Mode to Healing Mode.
Destruction Mode is right about where you’re at right now, I would guess. Not sleeping well, dealing with extra weight, managing tummy problems, powering through awful periods, collecting food sensitivities like Lululemon pants, and feeling like your mood swings are becoming a real problem in your marriage.
Healing Mode is where I want you to be. It’s where you start sleeping though the night, slowly discarding your fat jeans, having energy to get through the day without naps or coffee, feeling hopeful and optimistic for the first time in a long time, and finding yourself smiling again.
It takes a lot of work to get to Healing Mode, and most of us don’t have the time or energy to start exploring that process. Most of us also don’t have a plan or program to get to Healing Mode, either. So we just keep on keepin’ on, pushing through another day and praying things get better soon.
So today, I want to teach you the trick to moving your body from Destruction Mode to Healing Mode.
It’s not a powder or a pill, and it takes some work and thought. But it’s a great skill to begin to cultivate. As you start activating this healing power, you’ll realize that you are more in control of your health than you ever thought you were. And that’s a great feeling.
Activating Your Vagus Nerve
First, let’s talk about what the Vagus Nerve is.
The vagus nerve (VN) is a sensory nerve and the longest cranial nerve in the body. It starts at the base of the brain, travels down both sides of the neck and the heart, all throughout the stomach area, and into the intestines.
The vagus nerve can be toned and strengthened, similar to any muscle in your body.
The vagus nerve (from the Latin meaning “to wander”) flows throughout the body to perform the following tasks:
Keeps the larynx open for breathing – feeds the lungs and diaphragm
Slows/regulates the heartbeat
Stimulates the secretion of saliva, release of bile, and peristalsis (contraction) of the bowelsContracts the bladder
Sends messages to the brain to produce/release Oxytocin (feel- good/bonding hormone)
Reduces anxiety and depression
Reduces stress and inflammation
Increases immunity and longevity
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). One of the main issues that people experience when they have an underactive vagus is constipation (anyone?)
There are a million reasons that you might have an underactive vagus nerve, and all of these reasons begin with Stress.
As I’ve pointed out many times before, stress doesn’t need to “feel” like stress. Stress can come from the outside- difficult relationships, financial hardships, a sucky job, or parenting these teenagers.
Stress can also come from the inside- food sensitivities, recurrent infections like Epstein Barr, micronutrient deficiencies (huge! so huge!), an autoimmune burden, or chronic inflammation.
All of these things work to keep your body in Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance Mode.
This is otherwise known as Destruction Mode. I mean, I just call it that. I don’t know if anyone else calls it that. But it’s true.
And when we are stuck here, we tend to do really crazy things to overcompensate.
How to Reverse Sympathetic Dominant Mode
The first step is to start working on loving your Vagus Nerve. There are actually exercises you can do to help this process.
- Gargling – gargling vigorously with water after you brush your teeth every morning can really strengthen your vagus nerve. This will help improve movement in your digestive tract and can really help with constipation and a sluggish bowel. Plus it’s kind of fun.
2. Chanting, Humming, and Singing – Singing out loud, chanting, and humming really help to activate the vagus nerve. Next time you’re in your car, sing as loud as you can! I was not blessed with a good singing voice, so I opt to hum in the car. But I do this regularly.
3. Deep Breathing – Deep breathing helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate and this then sends a signal to the brain to stimulate vagal activation and put us in a rest and digest state rather than fight or flight. I love the app Breathwrk, which provides little bite-sized breathing activities that can help you start to cultivate this skill.
So that’s it. That’s where I want you to start. Once you begin calming your body down, you’ll have more resources available to divert to the healing process- whatever that looks like to you.
Which one will you try first?