Rebalancing Your Nervous System

These days, everything seems out of whack. That might include your nervous system.

Adjusting to life with COVID has been stressful, no doubt about it. I’m reasonably resourceful and resillient, but that didn’t prevent me from going through a cranky patch for a while.

It wasn’t just the daily dose of depressing news about social systems falling apart and the ginormous debt the country was accumulating to keep us afloat in the lockdown. Things that were easy now became complicated. I found that the activities of daily living were suddenly onerous.

I had to develop new habits like remembering to take my mask and hand sanitizer with me when I went out, to keep a proper distance from other people in the store, to follow the one-way arrows on the floor, to raise my voice if I needed to speak to someone, and to give up small talk or asking questions about products because it became more trouble than it was worth.

I had adjust to all sorts of new processes and expectations—like ordering food from a menu I had to download on my phone…while I was sitting in the restaurant that was serving it to me. I had to pack groceries myself when I brought cloth bags with me. I had to give up wearing my earrings (oversize clip-ons get in the way of installing a mask) and my collection of rings (not practical with repeated hand sanitization). All of these are little things in themselves but, coupled with all the bad news being reported daily, I was more stressed than I recognized.

I was coping, and then…

What made me realize that I was unduly stressed was my reaction when I had to pump my own gas. I had faithfully patronized the one remaining company that still pumped gas, hoping to provide positive reinforcement so they would continue for at least as long as I’m driving. But on my first refill after the lockdown, I discovered their pumps are now all self-serve. I was crushed! An inordinate reaction, and one that made me realize I needed to get a handle on my stress.

I sorted some things out in my mind, as I’ve written in two previous posts:

  • Reality check—where I recognized this is a predicament we are in, not just a simple problem to be solved.
  • Moral dilemmas—where I gained further perspective about the mental fatigue that comes from grappling with situations that have no clear-cut solutions.

Seeing the bigger picture of the current situation improved my disposition considerably. and then I discovered there was yet another element at play here—the condition of my nervous system.

Jumping to the end of the story: By doing a short series of head and eye movements, I dramatically increased my general sense of well-being and was able to leave the “cranky patch” behind.

Let me fill in the gaps…

What goes on in our mind and emotions is related to our bodies—in fact, about 80% in our bodies. So all the bad news and stressful adjustments were affecting my nervous system and, in turn, many bodily processes.

The final piece fell into place for me when I received a newsletter from Puria Kästele with a video demonstrating a few short and simple movements to rebalance the vagus nerve. I was drawn to giving it a try, with no expectation about what it would or wouldn’t do for me. Just curious really.

After a day or two, I noticed I was feeling a sense of well-being that I handn’t experienced for some time—long before COVID, actually. Not only did I notice, but friends commented that they heard a difference in me over the telephone.

So what is the vagus nerve?

Vagus nerve

Image via Bruce Blaus on me-pedia

The vagus nerve is a long bundle of nerves originating at the base of the brain. As you will see in the diagram, it connects the brain and the gut. Along the way it communicates with all the organs and, as you might imagine, serves many important functions in the body. When a doctor uses a tongue depressor and asks you to say Ahhh, it is to test the function of your vagus nerve.

Psychologists and therapists are now recognizing the importance of the vagus nerve in healing from trauma and chronic stress. Ideally, when there’s a stress response (fight or flight), your system returns to normal when the stress is over. However, in the case of trauma and chronic stress, the system can get stuck in either high gear or collapse. Here’s a graphic depiction of what happens.

The vagus nerve is important in reconnecting cells after a trauma. If it isn’t working properly, many aspects of the body do not function well. There are a variety of home-based techniques that stimulate the vagus nerve, thus improving your vagal tone. The movements demonstrated by Puria in her video are one example.

If the video doesn’t show up, here’s the link: Nervous System Regulation from Puria on Vimeo.

But sometimes drastic measures are needed…

The primal scream was popular in the 1970s as a means of dealing with pent-up frustration. Iceland is offering you an opportunity to “record your scream and we’ll release it in Iceland’s beautiful, wide-open spaces.” Here’s the website where you’ll find a “tap to scream” button and Instructions for how to participate. You may want to turn your volume down a bit before watching the video. If it doesn’t show up, watch it here.

If I understand correctly, you get to see the livestream of your scream being released. Let us know if you do this!