How Resetting the Vagus Nerve Can Help You Heal
It’s no secret that the holidays bring on extra stress. For those of us dealing with anxiety, depression, or trauma, the holidays add an extra layer compared to what we are already dealing with. As many of my clients would tell you, I am big on skills and bodywork to address anxiety, depression, and trauma. I thought I would take this time of year as an opportunity to provide some education and encourage you to practice resetting your Vagus nerve whether you are anticipating going into some type of stressful environment or something pops up unexpectedly.
I utilize a lot of education in my approach to treatment so I will start out with a little of the science behind the Vagus nerve and why it could beneficial for just about anyone to “reset” the Vagus nerve. This is a relatively new science and while the research is not 100% conclusive, it is continuing to be studied and many people are self reporting that they are finding it beneficial to add this type of body-work into their self care practices.
As most of us know, stress takes a nasty toll on our mental and physical health when experienced at heightened levels over a long period of time. In fact, I get a lot of physical complaints from clients including digestive issues, auto-immune conditions, fertility issues, and even physical pain. What we know is that there is a connection between stress, AKA our fight-or-flight response, and all of the aforementioned conditions. While that list is not exhaustive, those are the most common.
The Polyvagal Theory was first formulated by Dr Stephen Porges in 1994. Polyvagal Theory looks at the function of the vagus nerve, or tenth cranial nerve, found by the ancient Greek physician Galen when he was working with wounded gladiators. He named the nerve after the Greek word for wanderer, because it wanders all over the body, from brain to heart and lungs to digestive organs and all the way down the torso. It's the longest - and busiest - nerve in our bodies. And we have no conscious control over its function. (lkmerton, 2021).
Our vagus nerves are active when we’re engaged in positive social behavior – comfortable and relaxed, with people we care about and with whom we feel safe to be ourselves. Safety is the operative word here. We need to feel safe, and calm, in order to learn, heal, and grow – in order to feel a part of something, to be creative, to accomplish our best, and in order to feel joy. (lkmerton, 2021). Remember, lasting change can only occur in a calm body.
The goal for all of us whether in therapy or not is to be able to function effectively within our social relationships at work, at school, and at home. Unfortunately for those of us experiencing chronic stress or symptoms of trauma we may not be able to do those things. For example, if I have so much on my plate that I can’t take breaks, if I constantly put everyone’s needs before my own, or if I’m in an abusive relationship I may constantly be in fight or flight without even realizing it. (For a lot of my clients, this is the norm) At this point many of us are in what I would call “hulk mode” AKA fight or flight, but we can’t sustain this so we end up shutting down entirely. Feeling powerless over our ability to effectively cope this can lead to hopelessness, helplessness, and depression.
The great part about resetting the Vagus nerve or “reestablishing tone”, is that it gives us the ability to return to a more calm and relaxed state. What that means is we can engage in positive social interaction and allow healing to take place. This is can be done daily, and the more we do it the more of a positive effect we will notice. Resetting the Vagus nerve has been known to help individuals with anxiety, depression, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Autism.
The book, “Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve” by Stanley Rosenberg is a great resource if you are interested in learning more and it is also the foundation for the steps I am listing below. I gave it a try myself, and while I started in a relatively calm state, I did notice a distinct increase in my present awareness and focus. Try it out and let me know your thoughts!
Lie down with knees bent or straight, whichever is more comfortable.
Interlace fingers and put them behind the head (If any shoulder issues exist put one or both hands down and relaxed by your side or resting on your belly)
Take a moment to bring awareness to hands behind your head where your neck and head meet
Move both of your eyes to your 3 o’clock or as close to your 3 o’clock as possible and hold them and wait for either a yawn, a swallow, or a sigh. This can take anywhere between 10 seconds to 2-3 minutes depending on how stressed your nervous system is. . . and that’s it!
Repeat 1 or more times in a row if feeling stressed.
Can be done in sitting or standing position as well and is beneficial to do daily or twice per day.
(3 o'clock position)
lkmerton. (2021, July 15). What is my vagus nerve and why would I want to reset it? Laura Merton, MACP. https://www.lauramerton.com/post/what-is-my-vagus-nerve-and-why- would-i-want-to-reset-it
Vagus Nerve Reset - most effective way to Destress your Body! (n.d.). Www.youtube.com. Retrieved November 16, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S8KT7w4uaA