The vagus nerve

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is a pair of nerves that connect the brain (hypothalamus) to the digestive system (stomach to be exact). Through the digestive system, it connects the brain to the internal organs and is responsible for calming the body after the fight or flight response has been activated. It regulates mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate – so it’s a pretty big deal!

In our current society, the fight or flight response that was once reserved for physical dangers such as running away from animals wanting to eat us, is now activated mostly by psychological stressors. This includes work pressures, adapting to change, financial pressure, body image concerns, trauma and anxiety. The vagus nerve has an important role in calming the body after these events.

What happens when the vagus nerve isn’t working as it should?

When the vagus nerve isn’t working properly, it can present as inflammation and inflammatory diseases (including IBD, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), depression, PTSD, gastrointestinal problems (such as IBS), chronic fatigue, endometriosis, anxiety, PMS and arthritis.

How to activate the vagus nerve

Activating the vagus nerve helps the body to calm down faster after stress.

This can be done through:

  • Taking some deep, abdominal breaths with a long exhale
  • Meditation
  • Immersing in or splashing cold water on our face
  • Singing and laughing
  • Nourishing the gut microbiome
  • Exercise
  • Massage
  • Positive social connections

The vagus nerve is like a muscle that needs strengthening and practice so try to activate it daily!

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