Updated: Feb 25, 2022
Can your thoughts determine how you digest food or utilize nutrients? If you are like me you have faced a stressful situation or maybe a trigger brings up feelings from the past and you find yourself running to the bathroom. I spent years in denial of how trauma and stress had affected my health.
We all know stress can influence well-being but are you more concerned about what foods you eat then reducing stress or changing your perspective? Maybe you tried Paleo, Keto, GAPS, grain-free, or a Candida protocol but you still had digestive issues.
Many of us are aware that there is a connection between our body and our mind. I noticed when I feel worried or unsure I have butterflies in my stomach. My heart rate increases when I ruminate about something that makes me feel resentful. But when it comes to digestion the connection is between the brain and gut via the vagus nerve.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and it is responsible for monitoring activity in the liver, spleen, stomach, pancreas, heart and lungs. It influences heart rate, respiration, and digestion. The vagus nerve is an important player in the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response that leads us to action. Once the threat or motivation is gone we want our body to calm down by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system allows your body to digest food. So imagine if your fight or flight response didn't turn off. Digestion is slowed allowing food to ferment and make toxins or food goes through the intestinal tract so fast that nutrients can't absorb resulting in undigested food in stools. So what does our thoughts have to do with our vagus nerve?
Your Thoughts and Vagal Nerve Tone
Studies have shown that self-generated positive emotions can increase vagal tone. Higher vagal tone is associated with better over all health and well-being. What can we do to improve vagal tone?
When we feel negative emotions creep up you can take actions to calm your parasympathetic nervous system. First take deep breaths focusing on exhaling for longer then you inhale. Take a two second breath in through your nose, hold for two seconds then breath out of your mouth for four to six seconds. Focus on positive thoughts about yourself, others or your situation.
If you are experiencing feelings of sadness, shame or worthlessness imagine what you would say to yourself if you were a child. Scoop yourself up and say comforting words. You are valuable, you are human and you are loved.
When you take the time to relax at the end of the day consider journaling, listing your positive qualities or write down what you are thankful for that day. Make plans to take a walk, enjoy a bath, meditate, pray or reflect on something that makes you feel peaceful.
Whether we are coping with stress, triggers, or intrusive thoughts we can take steps to manage our body's response by stimulating out vagus nerve and improving our digestion.
Our thoughts are as powerful as the healthy foods we eat to encourage healing and emotional stability. Remember you are valuable, you can be successful and you are loved!
- By Shirey Horner
FNLP, ACSM EP-C
Sigrid Breit, Aleksandra Kupferberg, and Gregor Hasler, Vagus nerve modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
Harvard Health Publishing (2012), The gut-brain connection
Johns Hopkins Medicine, The brain-gut connection. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-brain-gut-connection
Innis Integrative Body Mind Therapy, Calming a wigged out autonomic nervous system using the vagus nerve. https://www.innisintegrativetherapy.com/blog/2017/11/21/calming-a-wigged-out-autonomic-nervous-system-using-the-vagus-nerve