Trauma And Your Vagus Nerve
In this blog we’ll be delving into the connection between trauma and your vagus nerve.
Trauma has been described as an overwhelming demand placed upon a physiological human system. Whether it’s an isolated incident or recurring events, chronic stress and anxiety interfere with the balance of your nervous system.
When you imagine your instinctive survival response, it’s helpful if you think of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) as your ON switch, and the parasympathetic (rest and digest) as your OFF switch.
If your nervous system is in a continual state of being activated or ON, the result is felt in physical illness, distressed relationships, and an impaired cognitive ability. Stress is physiological, it changes your biology and this is the reason why we cannot just think our way out of distress.
More than just talking therapy is required to regulate a distressed nervous system. Specific body practices work directly with your vagus nerve, the main part of your rest and digest nervous system or OFF switch, to restore calm and balance.
What is the vagus nerve?
The parasympathetic nervous system originates in cranial nerves that emerge directly from the brain. We have 12 pairs of cranial nerves and the vagus nerve – the longest of the cranial nerves – is the main part of the rest and digest nervous system.
The word Vagus comes from the Latin word vagary meaning “wanderer”. The vagus nerve is not a single nerve, it is a bundle of nerve fibres travelling throughout the body like a system of roots or cables.
It travels down from the brain stem connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon such as the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems.
It also travels upward to the face through its connection with other cranial nerves. Therefore it communicates bidirectionally between the body and the brain.
The vagus is in charge of switching OFF our fight or flight reflex. It is described as being responsible for the mind-body connection as it is a mediator between thinking and feeling – think of the saying ‘trust your gut’ as really meaning ‘trust your vagus nerve.’
Feel it to heal it
This is why trauma healing requires feeling it somatically. Stress gets stored in our muscles, tissues, organs, postures and movements. Body-centred psychotherapy supports you to experience healing your trauma through bodily sensations and sensory information.
We live in a world that over-stimulates and over-activates our nervous system; therefore we need tools to help us to engage the vagus nerve on a daily basis.
If left untreated, chronic stress, anxiety and unresolved trauma can disrupt your physical, mental, and emotional health. An unhealthy vagal tone will compromise the nervous system leading to inflammation, lack of homeostasis, brain fog, and an increase in stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
Strengthening and toning your vagus nerve can put you back in control
When our vagal tone is healthy, we are in a state of homeostasis (balance) and this is associated with feelings such as: trust, connection, acceptance, and joy. In this calm state we breathe more efficiently, our digestive system works well and our body can repair – including the reduction of inflammation, tissue repair, and hormone production.
Strengthening and toning your vagus nerve can put you back in control of your body and mind. When your vagus is more balanced, you have a buffer for stress that can help you to stay calm and rational in challenging situations.
Body-based practices to tone your vagus nerve
As part of each consultation, I teach my clients how to tone their vagus nerve through evidence based neuro-scientific body practices.
This may include sound, body movements to calm or uplift, grounding practices, eye movements, acupressure points, vocal cords, myofascial release, breath work, postures, and more.
By toning your vagus nerve every day, you send regular cues of safety to your body and brain that relax and de-stress your nervous system no matter what challenges you are facing. A healthy, functional, toned vagus nerve leads to long-term improvements in your mood, wellbeing and resilience.
This blog is just a brief outline of Body-Based Psychotherapy. If you are
looking for some more individualised guidance or someone who really understands
the mind-body connection, I would be delighted to provide confidential 1:1 sessions to overcome your trauma symptoms.