The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety
The vagus nerve is a key element of the parasympathetic nervous system, which can calm you down during high misery emotion event. More specifically, the vagus nerve controls our heart, lungs, and digestive tract.
During a traumatic event, the vagus nerve can save our life, so it is a good thing it can respond quickly and thoroughly. When we feel anxious, stressed or traumatized, our vagus nerve sends a signal to various parts of the body in response to a perceived threat. This will show up as increased heart rate, increased blood flow, change in digestion, trouble breathing and so on. With this increase in functioning, our body can respond with fight, flight, or collapse responses to keep us safe.
So, what do we do when our vagus nerve gets triggered and we do not need a trauma response? Here are some skills to consider:
Sip ice cold water
Suck on sour candy
Hold an ice cube in your hand or on your wrist
Splash your face with cold water
Using these skills shocks the vagus nerve into a reset that automatically regulates our system. Thereby, decreasing the body’s anxiety or panic response. Once we have shocked the vagus nerve into regulation, we can focus on grounding skills to further regulate our emotions. Try telling yourself you are safe, orient to colors and shapes around you and move your body to further calm your system.
The more you practice these skills, the more regulated you will start to feel on a regular basis. You will also start to notice skills becoming more automatic with practice. That way, your next panic attack or trigger will be easier to come down from more and more.