Why Mindfulness and A Healthy Vagus Nerve Help You Reset From Stress

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Stress

We feel it, talk about it, and tolerate it. We adapt to it and accept it as ‘normal.’ In the background, stress is silently wreaking havoc on our minds, bodies and lives. Of course, life can be stressful. The way we respond to stress is the difference between surviving and thriving. The problem is too many of us don’t understand how stress works. We don’t understand that we have can reset from stress, manage it and even reduce the amount of negative stress we experience. I’d bet every dime I have that if more of us knew these things, our mental health landscape would dramatically improve.  

In this post, you’ll learn: 

  • A basic overview of what stress is
  • What’s happening in your body when you’re stressed
  • (5) everyday choices you can make to reset from stress and manage it to start thriving 

No matter how many carefree smiles you see on social media, you’re not alone. The World Health Organization calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century and there’s good reason. When negative stress becomes your set point, it can lead to serious bi-products like anxiety, poor mental and physical health, broken sleep, workplace burnout and even death. This type of sustained stress interferes with your quality of life and your ability to thrive. But it doesn’t have to.

You have the power to reset from stress, manage it better and thrive. 

Resetting from stress and managing it starts with a basic understanding of how stress works in your body and mind. Bu understanding a few key points, you have the power to improve your holistic health and your overall life. 

How we respond to stress determines how well we are mentally and physically.

In simplest terms, stress is your mind-body response to something external that you perceive as threatening, dangerous, or harmful. In my life-coaching practice, resetting from stress is a goal for many of my clients.  When I ask them,  “How does stress feel in your body?”  They tell me things like:

“My heart races…My head spins. I can’t think clearly.. I get cold and shaky.. My stomach hurts…I feel like I can’t breathe.”

This all makes perfect sense because the connection between the body and mind is irrefutable.

When your mind is under stress, your body sends you somatic red flags (physical warning)  that something is out of balance. 

That something is your autonomic nervous system. When you feel the red flags, that’s your cue to take action because this system regulates all of your super important involuntary functions like respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. There are two systems within that system that I’ll cover here, the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. 

Negative stress cues your Sympathetic nervous system (S for stress). This side of the system is responsible for your flight, fight, freeze response. It’s like an air marshal on constant alert for danger.

The Parasympathetic nervous system is its peaceful counterpart. (P for peace.) This is your relaxation control center. When it comes to your nervous system, it’s the pilot you want flying the plane. When you cue this system, something called your vagus nerve kicks in, slows everything down and jump starts all sorts of internal magic that tells your body “All is well.”

How stimulating the vagus nerve helps you reset and manage stress.

The vagus nerve is a major player in the parasympathetic nervous system.  (FUN PARTY FACT: It’s often called ‘the wandering nerve’ because well, it wanders from your brain right down to your belly, touching almost every hollow and solid organ you’ve got.) It’s the main relaxation nerve and the star of the show when it comes to resetting and managing stress. Bringing this all together is where mindfulness comes in. In simplest terms, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose and being with whatever you observe, without judgement. Here’s an example:

You body sends you the red flags. Instead of reacting, you PBA:

  1. Pause and connect with the source of stress
  2. Breathe slowly, into the belly, until you feel your heart rate slow down
  3. Assess how you want to respond. Response and reaction are very different things.

Mindfulness allows you to put some space between you and the source of stress. From this place, you can learn and respond instead of react. The more you practice, the better equipped you’ll be to manage stress in the future.

6) everyday mindful practices to boost your vagus nerve health:

  1. Breathing. Long slow belly breaths frequently throughout your day are magical when it comes to stimulating your vagus nerve.
  2. Meditate: Meditation is medicine. Whether your practice on your own, with an app or at a meditation center near you- the benefits of meditation when it comes to resetting from stress, are crystal clear. 5-10 minutes when you wake up and before you go to bed is a great way to get started.
  3. Chill: When the flames of stress are burning high, cool your system down. Place an icepack on the back of your neck or belly. If it’s possible for you, close your eyes. In 15-30 seconds, your vagus nerve will begin to work its magic. You’ll feel your heart rate slow and your breathing relax.
  4. Connect: This could be with people you love or connecting with something that brings you joy like a hobby, taking a picnic in the park, playing a sport or visiting a place that gives you good vibes.
  5. Listen: Music is powerful. Grab your headphones and tune into something that makes you smile and want to tap your toes.  Neuroscience Research recently published findings in Frontiers reporting the positive impact of binaural beats when it comes to reducing stress and inducing relaxation.
  6. Move: Exercise is good for you (body, mind and soul). Period. Get your bootie out of your chair and move it, move it.

*If you’re ready to reset from stress and thrive, let’s talk about how I can empower you through mindfulness-based life coaching


Cole Baker-Bagwell

Master Certified Professional Coach

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