Have you heard of the vagus nerve? It’s part of the parasympathetic nervous system that prepares our body for rest and digestion: it’s the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system that controls our fight, flight or freeze response. In short, it combats the stress response to perceived harm.
The vagus nerve is important to understand as it manages our stress and anxiety response. Sensory information is sent from the brain to the abdomen, connecting with the heart, lungs and gut on the way. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, the organs unite to regulate our breathing and heartbeat. There's good reason why people who are interested in wellbeing, performance and human potential, study the vagus nerve.
Athletes use breathing and meditation techniques to overcome stress in competition, which you can too if you’re feeling under pressure at work or in life. If you’re someone who feels your anxiety in your stomach, or you’re finding it difficult to focus on a task, or maybe you’re feeling impatient and less tolerant than normal – then this technique might be for you.
We know that many people are working harder and longer hours than ever before. We get that prioritising our needs and wants
over the demands of life and work can be a challenge. By stimulating the vagus nerve, we’re more effective in our ability to self-manage, to be high-performing when we need to, and to be present when it really counts.
Here’s five strategies to stimulate this reaction yourself:
- Take a breath: switch off from your devices to practise deep abdominal breathing. Like mediation, deep breathing immediately relaxes mind and body. Simply inhale through the nose for five seconds, exhale through the mouth for 10 seconds, repeat.
- Remember to move: step away from your day and take some mild exercise, like a walk around the block, some yoga stretches (try cat–cow to link your focus and coordination), or if you’ve more time, try tai chi or strength training, which all stimulate the response.
- Redirect your thoughts: splash cold water
over your face to divert the brain away from what’s troubling you. Alternatively take a cold shower.
- Make a difference: acts of altruism, generosity
and kindness to others activate the nerve response and give you that ‘warm glow’ effect.
- Take a moment: run your fingers lightly over your lips and focus on the tingling sensation it produces (you can even do this with a mask on). It’ll look like you’re in deep concentration.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘trust your gut’, and now you know where it came from!
How can I use these strategies to benefit my wellbeing? Ask yourself:
- What might be different for me if I can self-manage my vagus nerve?
- Who around me can I support by sharing these techniques?
- Which upcoming events can I practise manipulating my vagus nerve?
- Would I benefit from learning more about the vagus nerve?
If you are curious to learn more, here is a short video from one of our regular contributors Paul Taylor. He is the Director of The Mind-Body-Brain Performance Institute, where he delivers resilience, leadership and executive performance workshops to global companies and the Australian Military.
– The Coach Place Global
Image by @jessedo81
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