Shoo Away the Stress Bobcat, and Just Say “Ohm” to Stress

Did you catch our article on the stress response and how being stuck in it all the time is a root driver of poor health

What we didn’t mention there was the role of the vagus nerve in this situation. This single nerve acts as a super highway, connecting the brain to all of the digestive system’s organs and glands (stomach, pancreas, small intestines, etc.). 

During times of acute, episodic stress, it helps the body to divert energy away from being at rest and digesting food to focusing on survival. For those that are chronically living in stress, however, the vagus nerve becomes constantly activated. Like a muscle doing too many reps at too high a weight, it can fatigue. Overall, the result is a decrease in vagal tone. The good news is we can support it! 

Here are some ways to improve your vagal tone and help temper that stress response, allowing your body to focus on digestion and relaxation.

  1. Spend more time with people who bring you joy.
  2. Put space between things: Avoid overscheduling yourself, procrastinating, and creating unrealistic deadlines. 
  3. Take walks in nature: Being in nature can reduce stress levels by lowering the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
  4. Laugh more: Research suggests that adults tend to laugh less often than children. On average, adults laugh about 15 times a day, while children laugh up to 300 times a day. Watch comedies, look at funny memes, and do laughter yoga!
  5. Practice saying “no” more often: Prioritize your self-care and health vs. feeling a compulsion to say “yes” all the time. Saying “yes” to the things that matter to you and “no” to those that don’t energize you, creates a more authentic, respectful, fulfilling life.
  6. Deep breathing: When you take slow, deep breaths, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. We recommend you begin by using Box Breathing. In this approach, you inhale to a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 8, and then exhale slowly to a count of 8. Then notice the small still point – the pause – at the bottom of your breath before you inhale again.

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