If you’ve ever been in a panicky situation, perhaps as a kid- maybe more recently- you’ve probably been advised to “take a deep breath.” If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably then wanted to slap this advisor. The well-intentioned suggestion seems less than helpful when trying to respond to or fix what’s gone wrong. Hearing this can also cause us to feel like our feelings are not being understood, which can then lead to further frustration or panic and the vicious cycle begins.
But have we ever looked at the science behind this suggestion or have most of us just chalked up its popularity to the idea that more oxygen = good and therefor less oxygen = bad?
Well cue Bill Nye because today we’re dropping some evidence-based knowledge on the blog!
Friends, I’d like to introduce (or maybe re-introduce for you smarty pants!) you to the Vagus Nerve. The vagus nerve is part of our autonomic, parasympathetic nervous system, which means it is highly involved in our non-voluntary functions, such as heart rate. It starts in our brain stem and travels- or “vey-jahy, -gahy” latin org., meaning to wander or stray- all the way down to our stomach. So think of it as the USPS of our belly to brain connection and know that one of it’s jobs is to reassure the brain that everything is OK, we’re safe, and constricting blood flow and conserving energy is no longer needed.
Now we could go on for DAYS about vagal tone, vagal syncope, the vagus nerve and trauma… but we have lives to lead. So let’s cut to the chase: when we’re worked up, we can bypass a lot of the mental back and forth (“think lovely thoughts”) by waking up the vagus nerve and signaling to the brain that we can get things moving again. And we do this through deep, belly breathing which taps into that abdominal end of the nerve.
And the great news is that now the vagus nerve is all the rage so you can quickly google “vagus nerve stimulation” and find pages and pages of methods for tapping into our body’s built-in calm down command center! (Just make sure you’re trying out trick from legit and verified sources.)