In my last blog, I started looking at how trauma and stress can show up physically in the body and how it relates to our nervous system, specifically our Autonomic Nervous System, or ANS. Our ANS branches into the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous Systems and it is the SNS, known as our ‘flight or fight’, and the PNS or ‘rest & digest’, that I will continue to look deeper into and how they relate to trauma or stress holding space in the body as they are involuntary, unconscious actions.
As we know, when we are in fight or flight our body goes into survival mode, whether this be a physical or emotional threat, real or perceived. It prepares the body to expend energy and deal with those potential threats. Our heart beats faster, our breathing changes, our muscles are ready for action, and our body isn’t so concerned about digesting the last meal we ate. But what about the rest and digest time? Our PNS oversees a lot more than just digesting our food, it maintains normal body functions, and in this blog I want to look at an important function of one of our Cranial Nerves that supports us and has a huge role in helping our body to relax and heal.
The Vagus Nerve is our 10th Cranial Nerve and is also known as the ‘wanderer’, as it’s the longest Cranial Nerve in the body. This nerve is central to many physiological functions that involve mental and physical well-being, as well as interactions and relationships, and this nerve helps regulate our ANS. This wandering nerve has both sensory and motor nerves and is bi-directional, meaning it sends information from the brain to the body and from the body back to the brain.
Being the longest Cranial Nerve, it begins in the brain and makes its way throughout our body. This nerve branches down and innervates and regulates the functions of many internal organs, such as the heart, GI tract, lungs, liver, and pancreas. It also interacts with the spleen, gallbladder, neck, ears, tongue and kidneys. With these interactions it regulates heartbeat, the process of digestion, production of glucose, swallowing, speech, perspiration, blood pressure, and breathing, to name a few.
The Vagus nerve is our Brain/Gut connection. The processing of our emotions can also happen via the vagal nerve between the heart, brain, and gut. This can be part of the explanation of why we have ‘gut reactions’ to mental or emotional stress.
This is just a start on the importance and role of the Vagus Nerve. So how does this all come back to trauma or stress in the body? Well, it’s when the body removes this ‘Vagal brake’ that the SNS can function, which is helpful when needed, but also leads to greater vulnerability and stress. And as mentioned in the previous blog, if the body gets ‘stuck’ in this SNS state the PNS can’t function properly, which can put the body into an overdrive of stress and lead to difficulty coming back to a relaxed and repairing state.
It’s important to find ways and strategies to help bring the body back into its resting state and out of the overstimulated state when it comes to taking care of oneself. In my next blog, I’m going to look at the connection between our Nervous System and Vagus Nerve, and how it relates to trauma and stress holding space in the body.
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