Restoring a sense of calm

Stress, fatigue, anxiety, overwhelm and burn out. 

Over the last 18 months, you name it, we have seen it! Fires, floods and pandemics. For almost anyone reading this, you would have already experienced (or may even be currently experiencing) lockdowns and restrictions. Factors which apply an extra layer of stress on top of our already hectic lives. 

However you view it - the world right now is an abnormally crazy place. 

For many, being chronically stressed has become so normal we have become accustomed to it. For some, we almost wear being 'sooooo busy' as a badge of honor. 

However this place our minds now permanently sit is not healthy. Being consistently 'on' means we are overworking our sympathetic nervous system - otherwise known as our flight or flight. 

Why is it a problem you ask? 

The sympathetic nervous system is involved in preparing the body for stress-related activities. No longer are we running from saber toothed tigers, or worrying whether we'll be able to forage enough food to feed our young. Now its that work deadline, running late for an appointment or financial stresses that activate our 'fight or flight'. And the list goes on.  

Basically our brains are constantly sending out distress signals (think Gotham city signaling Batman) which activate the sympathetic nervous system. Our adrenal glands then respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. This leads to an accelerated heart rate, decreased motility of the large intestine, constricted blood vessels, shallower breathing and raised blood pressure. 

The other stress hormone simulated is cortisol, which in the short term is essential, however long term stimulation increases inflammation in the body which is shown to exacerbate conditions like IBS & IBD, psoriasis, eczema, acne and more. 

So how can I counter balance this? 

With our modern lives, stress is now pretty impossible to avoid, but all is not lost!  The key lies in stimulating another part of our nervous system -  the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as our rest and digest. The parasympathetic nervous system is associated with returning the body to routine, and enabling it to fulfill its day-to-day operations without the body having to put fires out all the time. Think of it as the 'Queen of Chill'. 

We also have a hidden superpower lying in our bodies that works to counterbalance our flight or flight mode. This superpower is the Vagus nerve. The longest nerve in our bodies, the Vagus nerve runs from the brain, travelling through organs like the lungs, spleen, heart liver, kidney and digestive tract. An important part of our gut/brain axis* it literally creates connections between the brain and gut. If you have ever experienced a funny tummy during times of stress then you now know why - the brain and gut are connected. 

One of the important jobs of the Vagus nerve is to help the body recover and calm down after a stressor - like those 1 millions emails in your inbox, or loosing the car keys. The Vagus nerve brings us back to balance and out of the sympathetic nervous system (fight & flight).  

Think of it like this,  the sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts like a hand brake. 

By stimulating the Vagus nerve we can receive the calming benefits of this 'Queen of Chill'.

Here are our top tips to bring out your inner calm.

1. Belly breathing. It's so simple it hurts, but when was the last time you stopped, took 10 really slow, deep belly breaths? Try it now, its amazing how incredible you can feel just by taking some mindful breathing throughout the day

2. Take a cold shower, or splash your face with cold water. better yet, if you have access to the ocean jump on in! Cold water elicits Vagus nerve stimulation, helping digestion, calming the nervous system and supporting our immunity. 

3. Eat your water. Eating water rich fruits and veggies helps not only give you vital vitamins and minerals but provides important fiber to support a healthy gut. Omega's are also beneficial for enhanced vagal activity. 

4. The Vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. So start singing in the shower, humming that catchy Instagram tune (we all do it), or Om'ing in yoga to activate these muscles and stimulate your Vagus nerve. 

5. I think we all know that meditation reduces stress but it also resets our sympathetic “fight or flight” activity bringing us back to balance. There are great apps out there for meditation such as 'Calm' 

6.  Exercise (in whatever form floats you boat) is shown to stimulate the Vagus nerve. It is also known to boost the brain and have positive mental health effects. 

7. Lastly, ear seeds.  Use ear seeds to restore a sense of balance and calm. Ear seeds have been shown to help stimulate the Vagus nerve. In a clinical study *"efficacy of Chinese auriculotherapy for stress in nursing staff." It showed that 'auriculotherapy' was effective in reducing levels of stress according to Vasconceos stress symptoms list. 

That's it! Super easy tips that you can introduce daily to help keep you in balance.

For those that like a little extra reading. Here are some resources: 

Back to blog