26 Nov The vagus nerve explained
Who you surround yourself with really does matter and how stress is catching..
Knowing and understanding more about your nervous system will allow you to take more control over being in this reactive state, often affecting both our mental and physical wellbeing.
As an aside, we soothe the nervous system with breathing exercises at the beginning of each hypnotherapy session in order for you to reach the optimum relaxing theta state.
Here, we are able to create powerful shifts in order to let go of outdated reactions that can make us feel stuck, embarrassed or frustrated.
The Vagus nerve is a two-way communicator that runs from the brainstem all the way to the colon.
It truly is the epicentre of the mind-body connection, this is of course inextricably linked.
The vagus nerve changes how we feel, think and act when we move into the different states of the autonomic nervous system depending on our
level of stress activation, environment and safety.
The feedback from the organs to the brain via the vagus nerve is what leads to changes in our nervous system states.
The information coming in through our conscious mind runs from the brain to the body, this regulates our organs and the immune, cardiovascular and digestive
Sometimes – We may feel overwhelmed, anxious or shut-down. We may blame or criticise other people or we may isolate & withdraw.
Other times we are cool, calm and collected.
Our nervous systems are powerfully influenced by other people.
It controls how we look, listen and speak, depending on our level of stress activation. Another person’s voice, gaze, expression and gestures all influence us, and we influence them, creating a feedback loop.
When our vagus nerve is engaged in a calm, regulated state and the people around us are also on a similar wavelength, signals are being sent and received and this safety resonance leads to connection and co-regulation of each person’s nervous system.
Feel good neurotransmitters are released; specifically oxytocin and endorphins, which we all have heard of.
Our physical, emotional and psychological well-being all improve when this co-regulation takes place.
Communication is optimised when we’re in this social engagement and the muscles of the middle ear are primed to detect mid-frequency sounds:
the sound of the human voice.
We’re also in the state where reciprocity and empathy is high.
It also means we’re more likely to see another person’s point of view.
Eye contact, welcoming gestures and attuning to another’s experience engage the branch of the vagus nerve called the “vagal brake” and this affects the heart rate also.
This connection causes our heart rate to slow down, our physiology is regulated and our stress decreases.
This means when we’re feeling anxious, just being around another person in their social engagement system can help us move back into ours too.
When we’re around someone who is experiencing high levels of stress activation they have moved outside of their social engagement system into
the sympathetic nervous system state and their vagus nerve is inhibited.
The muscles to do with speech change and so their voice becomes monotone.
There’s a loss of the expression in their face when they
communicate and this can signal to the survival part of our brain that something’s wrong.
Their gestures and body language excite the mirror neurons in circuits of our brain and signals are sent down into our body that make us feel anxious, reactive or that we need to move away from this person.
We lose the feelings of calm and ease because the vagal brake is inhibited, our heart rate increases, and cortisol is released.
We move from connection to protection.
We move into the Sympathetic Nervous System state.
When someone is in the sympathetic state of their nervous system the muscles of their middle ear change and they don’t hear the sound of our
voice as well.
This makes listening difficult in times of conflict and arguments, and it can lead to a lack of reciprocity (the back and forth of communication) and
attunement (the felt sense of being truly seen and heard by another).
If the connection in a relationship doesn’t feel secure, the sympathetic nervous system can cause responses like interrupting, criticising, blaming,
arguing and demanding attention.
It could also bring shutdown responses of stonewalling, silencing, isolating, distancing or withdrawing.
It’s not until we move back into our social engagement system and communication is optimised do we find reciprocity and attunement again.
We feel a sense of calm and ease thanks to the engagement of vagus nerve
re-regulating our nervous system.
Healthy relationships with high reciprocity help reshape the nervous system: this is like doing an internal massage for your vagus nerve.
The back and forth of communication and the giving and receiving of care both build connection and coregulation that shapes your nervous system so you feel a sense of safety and belonging when you’re having a difficult time.
Both your physical and psychological health can improve (or be impacted) by the people around you.
The first part into how to stay regulated when we’re around people who are dysregulated is developing Autonomic Awareness.
That is in any given moment knowing what state of your nervous system you’re in.
When you recognise the different:
· physical sensations and emotions
· thoughts, stories and beliefs
· and behaviours and actions of each state you can take back agency and control, rather than being overwhelmed by what’s happening in your nervous system.
You can engage with it rather than feeling helpless and not understanding why you feel drained, anxious or overwhelmed in some of your connections.
In the Sympathetic Nervous System State you may notice:
Heat, tension, tightness throughout the arms, shoulders and chest, anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
You may have difficulty switching off or like you can’t relax. You have thoughts like “I’m going to fail” or “Something really bad is about to happen.
You may find yourself becoming argumentative, criticising or blaming other people, you may say hurtful things that you later regret.
You may also notice:
You feel disconnected, numb and spacey from your environment. You feel flat, depressed, helpless and fatigued like you can’t take action.
You may procrastinate and lack motivation.
You might find yourself isolating and withdrawing from people.
You may stonewall others.
And when you come into the state where the social engagement system is active you’ll feel calm, centred, connected to the present moment.
You’ll find it easy to connect to other people as your social engagement system is functioning at its best.
You can think clearly and you may be in your “flow” state.
Your immune, endocrine, digestive and cardiovascular systems are all functioning at their best.
The parasympathetic nervous system restores the body to a calm and composed state and prevents it from overworking.
Salivation, tears to keep your eye lubricated and relive stress, going to the loo and digestion are all examples of this.
The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, prepares the body for fight and flight response.
Hypnotherapy can allow your body to enter a more relaxed state and let go of nervous system imprints that may be overworking due to a previous bad experience.