Research has found that trauma and related conditions like anxiety, stress, hyperactivity, tension, and insomnia are connected to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is involved in the fight, flight, freeze response, and sometimes it can get trapped in a pattern that continuously braces us to defend against a threat, even if there isn’t any real threat present.
The driving forces behind an overactive sympathetic nervous system vary from person to person, but they can often be traced back to a traumatic experience(s) at any stage of life including infancy, exposure to / witnessing of traumatic events, repeated exposure to a stressful environment, and may have some predisposing genetic factors.
So how do we de-escalate the sympathetic nervous system and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest, digest” to re-establish a sense of calm and safety in the mind and body?
There is a simple way to reset the vagus nerve which is heavily associated with the parasympathetic (calm state) nervous system to help with relaxation and the release of stress and anxiety. Some studies suggest that repeated resets of your vagus nerve can assist your body in processing trauma at the subcortical level. Put more simply - it can help you process and release trauma from your brain and body!
Worth a try? This exercise is simple and doesn’t have to take long, and it can do no harm, so don’t worry if it takes a few try’s to get the hang of it.
Here is a brief video showing how to do a vagus nerve reset. If you prefer to read through the steps, we have written them out below!
Step 1: Lay on your back on a yoga mat or another comfortably firm surface (you can have your legs straight, or bent, whichever is more comfortable).
Step 2: Interlace your fingers and place your hands behind your head (just above where your neck meets the back of your head)
Step 3: Settle into your lying position and take a few breaths
Step 4: Move your eyes horizontally all the way over to the left (it’s important to keep your head centred and your face up to the ceiling, just moving your eyes). Hold your eyes in that left gaze for 30 seconds or more, until you notice yourself taking a deep breath, sighing, or yawning. This can sometimes take people up to several minutes to achieve, so be patient, you’re not doing it wrong even if it takes longer!
Step 5: Once you experience a sigh, yawn, or deep breath, you can shift your eyes all the way to the right, and repeat the exercise on that side. You may feel your body relaxing, or some tension leaving your body.
Good luck, and we hope you find this exercise helpful. Feel free to do it as much as you want!