The vagus nerve and health
The Vagus nerve is one of my favourite subjects when talking about stress - it's absolutely vital to controlling the stress response and improving stress resilience
Vagus means 'wandering' in Latin - it's the longest nerve in the body!!
It starts at the brain, and connects with all the vital organs - gut, heart, lungs, liver, bladder, eyes, and sexual organs
The Vagus nerve is the 'brake pedal' for the nervous system, its what counteracts the stress response produced by the sympathetic system (fight, flight or freeze) and tells our body to go into rest, digest, repair and reproduce mode
It slows heart rate, stimulates digestion, lowers blood pressure, slows and deepens breathing, triggers the storage of energy in the liver, increases filtration of the blood in the kidneys, creates sexual arousal, and controls release of cortisol. Ie basically helping body to recover from stress, injury, or illness
It also reduces inflammation (modulates immune response)
ly its bidirectional - more signals go from the body back to the brain than the other way!! Its the root of the mind body connection
Vagal nerve function is also called vagal tone, and can be measured by resting heart rate, and heart rate variability ie how much the heart rate varies with breathing.
Higher vagal tone is linked with
Improved stress resilience
Improved executive brain function (reasoning, memory, decision making, complex tasks, attention) Improved self control Better social engagement More positive emotions Improved physical and mental health, especially heart health Better emotional regulation
The coolest thing about vagal tone though, is that you can help to control it - ie your mind can literally change your body!!
Vagal tone is improved by : - Exercise - Meditation - Controlled deep breathing /breathwork - Yoga - Controlled cold exposure - Flow state - Playing wind instruments singing/chanting /humming - Volunteering and connecting with others - Improving gut microbiome - Massage and physical touch - Laughter
If you suffer from stress, why not try introducing some vagal stimulation, it's free and easy - most of can be done anywhere at any time!!