Balance Your Autonomic Nervous System for Better Health

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls all the involuntary mechanisms in the body that are not under conscious control. These include heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, breathing, and body temperature.

There are two branches of the ANS. The parasympathetic branch, also known as the “rest digest” state, and the sympathetic branch, also known as the “fight flight” state. We should spend at least 80% of our time in a parasympathetic state, as this turns on digestion, healing, detoxification and immune function.

Unfortunately, the high demands of modern life put us into a sympathetic state much more than 20% of the time. This sympathetic dominance will result in an array of symptoms such as poor digestion, low immunity, increased anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia…. this list goes on! By using natural methods to shift the balance back to the parasympathetic state these issues can be helped or even resolved completely as the body is finally able to heal.

To achieve this balance it is worth understanding a little more about the tenth cranial nerve on the brainstem – the vagus nerve. This is the communication channel between brain and body, body and brain. It is the on/off switch between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When the vagus nerve is toned and healthy it is easier to get into a relaxed state of parasympathetic dominance.

There are two main things that compromise the vagus nerve

  • High stress or negative thoughts
  • Physical toxins or infections

So, stress, negativity, toxicity and infection should all be assessed and reduced or cleared if possible. Toxicity and infection is something I am always mindful of with my nutrition clients. Very often chemicals, heavy metals and chronic viral infections need clearing, and this needs professional support.

There are also a number of simple things you can do yourself to encourage a parasympathetic state and to tone your vagus nerve. Consistency is key. Choose some of these things and do them often:

  • Gargle – hard! For a few minutes every morning. This is like press ups for the Vagus.
  • Sing – loud! Similar to the above. I find that the shower or car works well for this!
  • Use a tongue depressor to stimulate your gag reflex. This is very effective, if a little unpleasant!
  • Google “Stanley Rosenberg Basic Exercise” – this is a simple technique for activating the Vagus Nerve that you can do in 1 minute. His book on the subject, “Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve” is brilliant.
  • Splash your face with freezing cold water.
  • Yoga and meditation.
  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Nurture your good gut bacteria with a diverse healthy diet of colour. Our good gut bugs produce products that stimulate the parasympathetic state. Our not so beneficial gut bugs stimulate the sympathetic. Probiotics may help.
  • Consume Omega 3 fats from fish or supplements.
  • Intermittent fasting.
  • Exercise, ideally in nature.
  • Have a massage.
  • Socialise and laugh!
  • Use essential oils aromatically to help relaxation and apply topically behind the ear on the mastoid bone – a great location to directly stimulate the vagus nerve