How is your nervous system doing? With the state of the world right now, many people are experiencing symptoms of a nervous system running on overdrive – insomnia, anxiety, extreme fatigue, digestive issues to name but a few! The fact that collectively we have all experienced ongoing changes to our lives in the past couple of years means that some of these symptoms have settled in and may be starting to feel normal.
So, what is going on in our bodies?
These symptoms are all related to issues within a part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system. This is made up of three parts: the enteric nervous system (gut/digestive system), the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for fight, flight or freeze responses), and the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for a rest, digest and restore responses).
Fight or Flight Response
The sympathetic nervous system activates our fight or flight responses when we encounter threatening situations, emotional stress, or anxiety. It then sends impulses to the adrenal glands, which release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into the blood steam, increases heart rate and blood sugar levels. Now, this is all well and good if we are legitimately being chased by a lion! However, most of us on a daily basis are not – we are simply going about our daily routine, but our nervous systems are activated as though that lion is lurking around every corner!
Rest, Digest and Restore
What we really need is for the other branch of our nervous system to be active – our parasympathetic. The role of the parasympathetic nervous system is to regulate or restore our body to resting state, it allows us to rest, digest and repair. The vagus nerve is a long and complex nerve that comes from the brain and wanders through the body (also known as the “Wandering Nerve”) regulating our organs as it goes before finally finishing in the gut. It is also the largest contributor to our parasympathetic nervous system.
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve controls many of our vital biological functions, including mood regulation, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. Often due to increased amounts of stress we find ourselves operating in a sympathetic autonomic state, where we are constantly engaged in an aroused state of fight or flight. This dysregulation of the nervous system results in many mental and physical ailments such anxiety, depression and stomach and digestive issues. A healthy parasympathetic nerve response, which is governed by the vagus nerve, is essential for our mental wellbeing and physical health. When we support this parasympathetic nerve response, we can repair, digest and absorb the nutrients in our food properly and regenerate.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can support and increase your vagal tone and we at Evolve are here to help.
Healing the nervous system takes time and support. CranioSacral therapy works directly with the nervous system and vagus nerve, assisting us to shift from states of ‘fight or flight’ into states where we feel emotionally and physically safe. Each time we experience this shift we strengthen the nervous system pathways that encourages this transition to occur naturally. Over time this increased vagal tone ‘rewires’ our nervous system and restores a healthy balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts.
You can book in with one of our skilled practitioners here at Evolve easily via our online booking system.
Deep belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing is something that you can do at any time to instantly stimulate the vagus nerve and lower your stress responses. A simple technique is square breathing. You can begin by inhaling for the count of four, holding for the count of four, exhaling for four and holding for four and continuing this.
Need a little extra help with your breathing? One of our Evolve therapists, Karen Leo, specialises in the Buteyko Breathing Method and retraining optimal breathing patterns. Buteyko Breathing Method is a therapeutic approach to breath retraining. As you learn to breath more slowly, calmly, and effectively a variety of common challenges begin to reduce. These include asthma, anxiety, and sleep concerns – it also stimulates the vagus nerve supporting a sense of overall calm and connection.
Research shows clear link between healthy gut bacteria and increased vagal tone. We can support a healthy gut biome by eating an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables and incorporating fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut which are rich in good bacteria. Additionally, it is often beneficial to include a daily probiotic such as Metagenics Ulta Flora or BioCeuticals Ultra Biotics both of which are available from the Evolve Clinic.
Meditation is a wonderful way to reset the nervous system and can offer individuals a science-backed way to reduce anxiety in the present moment.
One of our favourite mediations here at Evolve is Practicing Gentle Kindness toward Ourself by Sarah Blondin and can be easily accessed via the Insight Timer App.