I was inspired to write this blog by my colleague and PT, Frank Sinclair, aka FitWithFrank! As we were recording a Podcast on ‘Rest, Recovery, Reflexology and The Vagus Nerve’ it resurrected my passion about the Nervous System. Quite why the this System grabs me so much I honestly can’t say but ask me to draw you a nerve dentrite axon and weirdly I can!
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
The Vagus Nerve is the tenth Cranial nerve originating from the brain stem that is responsible for our ‘states’ especially fight and flight or rest and digest. It basically can switch in and out of either state. The ‘switching’ is the action of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) – it is involuntary.
Why is this important?
The body is designed to switch us in and out of fight and flight whenever we need to protect ourselves. When there is a state of perceived or potential fear, it switches us into a state of High Alert, ready for action.
However, if the body is constantly or very regularly in this High Alert state then effectively we are in a state of chronic stress and the impact on our well being can begin to take its toll.
Lets look at what happens to the digestive system when on High Alert:
- The secretion of the hormones from the glands is depressed
- Blood is diverted away from the digestive organs
- Flow. absorption and movement within the digestive organs is restricted
- The body is flooded with Adrenaline and NorAdrenaline
- There is increased demand for Insulin
- The visceral (connective tissue) can be inflamed
- Symptoms of IBS and bloating maybe present
And in a calmer, rested, relaxed state:
- Blood flow to tissues and organs improve
- Regulation and control of hormones improves and rebalances
- Absorption of nutrients improve
- There is increased flow and healthy movement of the bowel
- The sphincter muscles relax, symptoms of IBS decrease
- Inflammation and bloating reduce
When we are in a good state, our Nervous and Endocrine (hormone) systems work together to help control function and regulation of our hormones – effectively, we achieve homeostasis – which is stability.
In a nutshell, we need to feel SAFE to feel WELL.
We all have very busy lives these days. We have become ‘time poor’ and so we steal from our rest, our recovery, our downtime in order to manage and control all the other things that we need to do.
If we continually do this, for too often, for too long then unfortunately our bodies begin to struggle to keep balance and control. We begin to experience changes in the natural flow and rhythm of our bodies, for example blood pressure can increase or decrease, our heart rate can increase causing panic attacks and anxiety, our reproductive cycles become irregular, and painful, the quality of sleep is impaired (insomnia), weight can pile on or simply not budge despite our efforts (metabolic rate).
To bring back balance, we need to reclaim our rest time and our well being. There are lots of ways to improve your work/life balance, so simply take a step back and then make some changes where you can – do chose things you know are enjoyable or that you’d like to try.
Here are my top 5 suggestions:
- Reflexology is proven to switch the body into the calmer state encouraging the systems to regulate and reset (Lu WA et al, reported “Foot Reflexology can increase Vagal modulation, decrease Sympathetic Modulation, and lower blood pressure in healthy subjects and patients with coronary artery disease” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 17, no.4 (2011).
- Mindfulness or Meditation can be on hand to create a new state of calm – these days it is really easy to find a good track to listen too – heres my freebie, a Deep Relaxation Recording.
- Bathe in Epsom Salts – I love them – check the instructions but personally I love a good 500 gms and minimum of a 30 minute soak – not only does this alleviate tension and tightness in the muscles but is excellent to help detox from your day and increase your magnesium levels to aid sleep.
- Read a good book or magazine or listen to an audio book (my new go to!)
- A good walk, fresh air and great company also does the trick.
So, get a little more Rest, Recovery, and Relaxation to help reduce your stress levels and improve your digestion! If you have any problems doing this, get in touch and try some Reflexology – it’ll do the trick!