The Vagus Nerve is Relevant

By The Center KSQ
June 4, 2020

Inside of each and everyone of us is something called a vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve which is a sorta fancy way of saying a big old vein rooting from the back of your brain and stemming out into your major organ systems. It is the largest and most critical of all cranial nerves IMHO but my doctor friends might have a different take. ⁣⁣But in the trauma model, she's relevant. ⁣⁣When your vagus nerve is happy, it sends all kinds of happy loving messages between its three branches (upper, middle, lower). It sings la-la-la as it connects your vital organ systems to one another in a harmonious way. And relays information regarding safety, stability, and connected calibration back to the brain. And the brain smiles. When this nerve is optimal, all kinds of neurotransmission dances through our brains and bodies saying "I am safe, I am loved, I love, I connect".⁣⁣How. Ev. Er. Because, yes there is always a catch, when a person is under fire from stress and trauma, the vagus nerve starts sounding the alarm. And suddenly, the body is a less happy place to be. Neurotransmission goes bananas and suddenly we are running amok, or frozen in place, completely unable to experience the flow that we did back when things were la-la-la. ⁣⁣This is not necessarily a bad thing, per se. We need safety mechanisms in this world. We need response systems in place to help us get out of dodge, to protect what is ours to protect, or to sit still for a second and allow for a pause. ⁣⁣All good things in the face of bad. ⁣⁣These are also systems found in our mammalian friends and 2/3 the reason why so many species live on and thrive. The body becomes the vehicle for change in the face of shifting tides and possible threat. ⁣⁣Here's the thing about the vagus nerve and us people folk. We have this amazing thing, which can also be our Achilles: the human brain. But one particular part of our brain, the cortex.⁣⁣Although the cortex is our thinking, being, living, deciding, responding, connection-based-person-brain, it can also be a danger zone. Without knowledge, self-awareness, and something my field calls psychoeducation, we are in for it, potentially. The lower and middle parts of our brain in collaboration with the vagus nerve leave our thinking parts to fend for themselves while we keep the body safe. ⁣⁣So, what happens is thoughts start to generate based on what the body is doing, not in the reverse. And this can become problematic. ⁣⁣Think of something that maybe frightens you a bit.... and then notice what your body does. It tenses, it shakes, it feels heavy and uncomfortable. Overtime, left unchecked, left repressed, that becomes the norm. Shaky, heavy, uncomfortable. ⁣⁣Now think of something you love very much, more than life itself. And now notice what the body does. It feels warm, calm, at ease, and maybe you may even feel tears fill your eyes. This is the vagus nerve and all three branches lighting up, allowing for that flow again. And the platform for clearer, better, more aligned thinking and deciding. ⁣⁣We need this right now. We need our vagus nerves to flow. We need to keep adapting, and operationalizing change during this critical, and very exciting times in our lives. We are at the precipice of change that has the mark to possibly change and save the world from the terribly unsteady and poor systems that have been in place for far too long.⁣⁣But it is imperative that we all take time out as we continue to march on in the name of love and a better place to call home. ⁣⁣Take time out to breathe. To close your eyes and surrender to the moment. Find a safe, covid-friendly person to hug if you are able to. Feel your feet. Walk. Dance. Turn on the music. Hug your dog. Cry. ⁣⁣But be mindful of the rage. The rage is where we will lose our footing. Be angry. Be done. Be dedicated to never, ever going back from whence we came. ⁣⁣But take care of your tender nervous system, of your beautiful vagus nerve. ⁣⁣We need them humming as much as we need each other through this changing time.⁣⁣xoxo,⁣⁣WSR