** As seen on Leslie's List!
Anxiety seems to be the new, American way of life. Everywhere you go, you hear something about anxiety or people dealing with it to one degree or another. While it’s manifestations are as varied as the people navigating it, there are lot’s of great, natural solutions. Let’s walk through the basics of what anxiety actually is, and some ways to support your body to resolve it naturally!
First, let’s look as what it is… Anxiety is not an emotion, but rather a neurological-physiological response to emotions that are subconscious, buried, or repressed.
Anxiety can be seen in many different forms. Some people experience “panic attacks” or “anxiety attacks” intermittently, and feel fine otherwise; while others are in a constant state of anxiety to some degree. Other individuals can’t sleep, while others still can hardly keep from lying down because they are so tired all the time. No matter what the experience of the person, anxiety can always be traced back to an event/experience/emotional conflict that triggered the individual's “Fight/Flight Response” in their nervous system, which then did not receive the cues needed to come back out of that state. The nervous system (the Vagus Nerve in particular) is then stuck doing something I call “Looping Fight/Flight."
When Fight/Flight is engaged blood vessels in the stomach shut down (causing butterflies, queasiness, etc), and blood flow to the organs that maintain your body (organs doing jobs such as: cleaning, filtering, and repairing the body) is decreased.
When the body is anxious, Cortisol is produced, which shuts off growth hormone production thus disrupting hormone balance, increasing heart rate and rerouting blood flow and energy to the extremities as the body needs to focus all resources and energy on fighting off the “attacker.” That part of the brain has no idea what the “attacker” is and could be a bear trying to eat you, for all it knows.
Secondly, the immune system is shut down, because it takes so much energy to protect, repair, and heal the body. When Fight/Flight is engaged, the brain thinks the biggest threat is outside the body and reroutes all resources and energy accordingly. A bear is a much bigger threat than a bacterial infection!
*Interesting side note: Stress hormones are given to transplant patients to shut down their immune systems to keep them from rejecting the new organ.
When cortisol is produced a message is imprinted into the subconscious mind communicating something along the lines of: “I’m not safe," “I might die," etc.
As mentioned above, if the brain doesn’t receive the proper cues to down-tune back out of Fight/Flight, it begins “looping” it.
A popular question regarding anxiety is: Can anxiety be passed on from parent to child? Absolutely. Scientific findings of hereditary anxiety date back to 1966 (Rakoff, Sigal and Epstein). It’s important to note, however, that doesn’t mean the child has to live with anxiety for the rest of their life.
This is all happening through the Vagus Nerve, which is a unique Cranial Nerve that has multiple jobs including: facial muscle, auditory, cardiovascular, and digestive function; it also has a crucial role in signaling the part of the brain that can interpret and understand social cues.
There is a great deal more information on all of this, but my hope in going over those aspects of this system is that you may better “connect the dots” see how implementing some Vagus Nerve toning strategies can help you, and those you love, in supporting your health.
Ok, excellent. That’s all fascinating, but what do we do about it? Can we get better or find some degree of relief?
When the Vagus nerve as been at full-tilt for a long time and everything it is enervating as been receiving those Fight/Flight signals for as long, you can imagine there is some “clean up on aisle 5” to be done. So just take it a step at at time and keep adding *one more good thing. I help people with this every day, so if you are navigating life with anxiety, know that you are in good company and this doesn’t have to be a lifelong battle. There’s lots of help and support for you!
NST very specifically down-tunes the nervous system out of Fight/Flight (sympathetic) and into Rest/Digest (parasympathetic) and teach my clients how to do some specific muscle work with the Psoas muscle and Vagus nerve to deactivate that “looping”. This is one very helpful component, but there are lots of things that will help bring back proper tone to the Vagus Nerve, so here is a short list to get you started! I encourage you to begin adding some of these in to your life and enjoy the benefits!
1 Music. One of the most healing components of the entire list. Singing, playing an instrument and/or listening. Best therapy in the world - nothing heals the nervous system faster than music!
2 Gratitude and Kindness. Focus on giving it and you will start firing the myalenated vagal fibers and be bathed in the cues of safety and in that state you are not recruiting defense signals.
3 Warm contact. A warm handshake, a hug… to feel safe in the arms of another appropriate mammal. :) Some people don’t feel safe with other people, but dogs are a miracle. Warm contact produces oxytocin which is cardio-protective, and also takes us back to those cues of safety.
4 Social engagement to the level the person wants. Some are introverts and others are extroverts.
5 Essential Oils. Lemongrass, Wild Orange, Frankincense and Vetiver are particularly good for Vagus Nerve and the Amygdala (trauma “center” of brain) As a healthcare practitioner, I recommend dōTERRA because I’ve tried and researched so many different essential oil companies. I have seen and experienced the best results, BY FAR, with this brand over the others.
6 Grounding: Feet in the grass, breathing deeply, relaxing.
7 Yoga: restorative yoga, Baptiste, Pranayama, Kundalini... whatever you are drawn to
8 Meditation: I really love the "Headspace" app and all of Michelle Chalfant's meditations are fantastic - she even has a 1-minute meditation for those who "have no time"! ;-)
9 Breathing Deeply and Slowly: lots of great videos out there
12 Tai Chi/Qi Gong
15 Fasting: with guidance from your trusted healthcare practitioner;-)
16 Nature… Fresh Air, Sun, Water… whatever calms you and makes you feel safe.
17 Weighted Blankets: You can buy them or make them at home! Incredibly calming and soothing to the nervous system.
18 The Adult Chair - Michelle Chalfant: This model is absolutely the most effective way of processing emotion I've ever encountered. In my own recovery journey from PTSD, it was the combination of NST and Michelle's Adult Chair work that brought me all the way back. I tried lots of other counseling models (so many!)... Michelle was a God-send for me, I hope you'll check out her site, podcast and workshops!
** Dr. Stephen Porges, Poly-Vagal Nerve Theory
**Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
**Dr. Ruth Buczynski, NICABM
**Joseph Cohen, SelfHacked