Rock the Quarantine: Mental Health Monday

March 25, 2020

 

Mindset. Anxiety messes with mindset. When we perceive a threat our body is active in the sympathetic nervous system, our stress response is triggered. This is the fight/flight/freeze/fawn reaction. Chemically there is an uptake of cortisol and adrenaline in our body, which increases blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar and throws our system into immediate-survival mode. Unfortunately, this immediate survival mode tanks our long-term survival reserves/immune system. All of the body’s resources are busy keeping you alive in the moment. 

 

When we are heightened in this way we want to encourage the relaxation response to take over. One way is certainly to manage the current of thoughts that flow through our mind and choose to focus on the positive as we talked about yesterday. But, there is more to it than simply managing the thoughts. Thoughts, nutrition, exercise and the like are very effective in dealing with anxiety. However, for our purposes today, there are two specific things I’d like to share with you, two simple things for you to use to stimulate the relaxation response.

 

First, breathe deeply. 

 

This may sound too simplistic to be effective, but it works! I’m including an article from University of Michigan health systems that provides more details as to why deep breathing works but also offers other forms of therapeutic deep breathing. 

 

Part B to this intervention is what slowing our breathing communicates to our brain. When we are stressed we breathe rapidly and shallowly. But if we take a slow, controlled, deep breath we are communicating to our system “everything is fine”, “there’s nothing to see here”. Mel Robbins has an excellent mindset-reset series on her website. She talks about reframing the thoughts and feelings of fear into excitement in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n8i7ua0mSw

 

Second, in effort to stimulate the relaxation response we want to stimulate the vagus nerve. Vagus. Not Vegas. We want to RELAX, remember? (I’ve never been there but Vegas sounds more stimulating than relaxing. Anway, I digress…) the vagus nerve is our longest nerve and it is directly associated with the relaxation response. When we stimulate the vagus nerve we encourage our system to shift into the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest response. This will decrease our level of cortisol, lower our blood pressure, heart rate and level out our blood sugar. Take another deep breath and just imagine it! Sounds lovely doesn’t it. Our bodies relax, we can fall asleep and our body can regenerate and restore effectively; long-term survival, helping to build up our immune system. 

 

So how do we stimulate it? One simple way is to hum. I think this is so cool. Hum! What do we do sometimes when we are nervous? Mindlessly hum, right? That stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxation response.

 

I found the website selfhacked to be very useful in learning more about the vagus nerve and building immunity. There are plenty of articles there and I encourage you to take a look! 

 

Breathe deeply. 

 

Hum. 

 

Be well. 

 

Be at peace. 

 

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©2020 Sarah Fenlon Falk