How is your nervous system?

I was wondering how everyone in the community was faring with the unfolding of news from around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic. How is it affecting your home life, your work, travel plans, finances, and most importantly, how you are feeling inside yourself?
When we are faced with a threat, whether it’s an intruder, an aggressor or a pandemic, our nervous system the telecommunications network of our bodies springs into action. We have evolved over millions of years to respond to whatever nature or other beings may throw at us. We are very well equipped for this. Depending on how our mind interprets the threat, our nervous system immediately takes action and starts sending out the chemical signals that prepare our bodies for what is coming.

Fight or Flight

A common reaction is to go into the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is an automatic response of the sympathetic nervous system, activated by one of our cranial nerves, called the vagus nerve. It raises the heart rate, increases the breathing and releases adrenaline, and gets us out of sudden danger if we are being pursued by a predator.
The trouble is, if we are subjected to ongoing, long term stress, this same fight or flight response will be operating a great deal of the time, a situation that may have serious detrimental effects on our health. The problem is that our current lifestyle presents us with continuous and unrelenting stress demands that our nervous system was not designed to accommodate. Earlier in our evolutionary history, threatening situations were generally short lived. If we were being chased by a lion, our fight or flight mechanism would kick in and then afterwards we would return to a state of peace and equilibrium, giving us a chance to rest and regenerate.
In today’s world, however, we have continual deadlines to meet, bills to pay, traffic to negotiate, corporate ladders to climb, so many of us have developed the habit of staying in the switched-on stress response state continually. We don’t know how to release the tension and come down from the adrenaline surge. After years of this behaviour, our adrenals wear out. We are then in a state of adrenal fatigue or burn out in which the health of our whole body is affected. Chronic stress and burn out has been linked to digestive issues, skin problems, high blood pressure, sleep disorders and auto-immune diseases (Smerling, 2018) including MS and Parkinson’s disease (Chan et al 2017).
We were simply not designed to live with these high levels of daily stress.
The nervous system regulates important functions of the body such as circulation, respiration, digestion and reproduction. Its functioning is fundamental to how we feel, how we maintain our energy levels, and how we show up and perform in life. Finding ways to care for ourselves so that we can be personally prepared and remain resourceful is important for being in the resilient state we need to maintain in order to weather situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our nervous system is essential to our well being, just like air and water. It’s an invisible superhighway that links all functions in our body.

Rest and Digest

For some time we have known that there are two very different systems within the autonomic nervous system. There is the sympathetic nervous system, known for its mobilisation, and fight or flight reaction, and the more ancient parasympathetic nervous system, which can cause an organism to freeze, or to rest and digest. When the body is in a state of immobility, its energy directed internally, the parasympathetic is at play. This immobility response is also part of the vagal nerve system.

The Social Engagement system

In more recent years, we have learned of a third aspect to the vagal system, an additional branch of the parasympathetic nervous system, one that is much more recent in evolutionary terms and unique to mammals. This is the ‘ventral vagus’, or the ‘social engagement’ branch, which has been identified and verified by Stephen Porges in his polyvagal theory (Porges, 2011). The ventral vagus is fundamental to maternal bonding and all other social relations that stem from that primal first connection (Chitty, 2018). When this branch is activated we are in a positive, alert and trusting state, able to function effectively and relate well to others without being stressed.
Much interest has been activated in the therapeutic community by this new understanding of our vagal systems. Recent studies reveal its key role in inflammation, mood and pain regulation (Yuan and Silberstein, 2016) as well as the ability to engage with others and develop language skills (Porges et al, 2014).
So what does this mean for us in our day to day lives?

Vagal hierarchy

The question for us, moment to moment, is which of our vagal systems is being activated? Are we frozen and unresponsive in a very primitive state? Are we reacting with high adrenaline to a perceived threat and ready to fight back? Or are we alert and also relaxed, trusting, open and ready to engage? The choice of which state we are in at any given time depends on our ability to regulate ourselves. If our nervous system is not well organised and we have developed poor response habits due to being overloaded with stress, our responses will be chaotic.
To improve our self-regulation and regain a balanced and well organised nervous system, we need to restore the correct hierarchy in our vagal neural branches. The most recently evolved, higher order, social engagement branch of the vagal nerve needs to be our primary operating system.

What can we do today in our current situation?

As the current circumstances unfold, we may find that our movements are restricted, or that our work opportunities are either reduced or our work demands increased. We may have added family responsibilities such as tutoring children at home or caring for elderly relatives. We may need to cancel holidays, or might possibly fall ill ourselves. These are huge disruptions to our lives and present many reasons to feel stressed. If we can face these things without allowing them to trigger a stress response, we reduce the likelihood of more serious auto-immune diseases developing (Wurtman, 2018).

We can’t always know what’s coming our way, but we can prepare ourselves and put measures in place to be in a more resilient state for what is to come.

For each of us, the way our own immune systems respond to the virus will depend in part on the state of our nervous system. Too much adrenaline pumping will wear down our resilience and make us more susceptible. The more we can fortify ourselves and strengthen our immunity, the greater chance we have of minimising our symptoms and weathering the coming months smoothly. Acceptance is very important in enabling us to come through the upcoming challenges. Being emotionally calm and positive is one of the most important elements of good physical health.
Some basic preparation will help us to feel calm. Order medications and supplements you rely on and stock up with enough food for a few weeks. Take care of essential tasks that involve social contact in case this becomes restricted.
Cancel or postpone travel arrangements and other non-essential activities for the next few months. Use this time as an opportunity for some more solitary activities you may have been putting off due to life’s busyness. Maybe you have a gardening project, photos to sort, a book to write. Maybe there is someone at home that you really wish you could spend more time with. Now you can!

9 ways to activate the ventral vagus nerve

Here are some easy activities you can do yourself, at home, to help activate the ventral vagus and put you into a relaxed, stress free, open and positive state. By removing stress in this way, you allow your nervous system and immune system to come into positive balance. This is one of the most important things you can do to prepare your mind and body for its best response to the health challenges ahead.

  1. Seven Eleven breath: Breathe in through your nose in for a count of seven and breathe out through your mouth for a count of eleven, while making a whispered ‘ah’ sound.
  2. Gargle while making a loud vocal sound. The simultaneous stimulation of the throat and the ear activates the ventral vagal nerve.
  3. Humming: Humming is free and easy! It stimulates the ventral vagal nerve as it passes through the vocal chords and the inner ear.
  4. Valsalva technique: attempting to exhale against a closed airway while holding your nose. Hold the pressure for ten seconds. You may feel your ears pop. Both the build up of pressure and the stimulation of the middle ear muscles will stimulates the vagal nerve.
  5. Massage the cymba concha of your outer ear. This area directly stimulates the vagal nerve.
  6. Splash cold water on your face or submerge your face in cold water. Cold water entering the nostrils triggers the diving reflex which activates the vagus and lowers the heart rate.
  7. Hold some water in your mouth and immerse your tongue in it. The lukewarm water surrounding the tongue activates the vagal nerve.
  8. Reach out and connect with someone. When we engage and communicate in a positive, relaxing way, the ventral vagal nerve is activated.
  9. Listen to your Sound Therapy music. The filtering processes used in Sound Therapy activate the middle ear muscles, which has been shown to turn on the ventral vagus (Warhurst and Kemp, 2012).

Sound Therapy has been proven to be an effective tool for improving self-regulation and making social engagement more possible.

Sound Therapy works directly on the autonomic nervous system, has been proven to enhance the function of the cranial nerves, the middle ear muscles and to promote stress relief and better self-regulation and social engagement. Therefore, it is an important tool to be considered as a support to any system for retraining our nervous system.

Strengthening the immune system with nutritional supplements.

Rather than waiting to see if medication is needed after an illness occurs, I prefer the preventative approach of giving the body extra nutrition to ensure all our systems are running at optimum levels.
A multitude of herbs from both Eastern and Western medicine have been used to improve immunity for thousands of years. We also know its vitally important to have a healthy microbiome in our gut as this forms a baseline defence for our immune system. A strong immune system is the best protection against viruses. Good health, vitality and hygiene are our allies, and these things can be greatly enhanced with the right supports.
If you are interested in finding come good supplements for immunity, you may like to explore some of the links below. These are the supplements that have made a big difference to my health for many years. I trust the manufacturer and know that they have solid ethics on always using high quality, effective and safe ingredients. I use their products on a daily basis.
Use these links to obtain an automatic discount on your first order.
Probiotics for gut health
Immune support
Respiratory health
Mouthwash for oral health
Whatever your situation, it is my hope that you will find some positives in the changes that this pandemic may bring. Use the opportunity to give special time and care to yourself and your family. Let it deepen your awareness of how you respond in each moment as you support yourself in choosing the most positive responses you can.
Warm wishes to you all at this time, and stay safe.

Rafaele Joudry

Smerling, H. (2018). Autoimmune disease and stress: Is there a link? Harvard Health Publishing Cited on 13/12/18
Porges, S. (2011). The polyvagal theory: neuropsychological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication and self-regulation, W. W. Norton and Company, New York.
Porges, S. W., Bashenova, o., Bal, E., Carlson, N., Sorokin, Y., Heilman, K. J., Cook, E., and Lewis, G. F. (2014). Reducing Auditory Hypersensitivities in Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Preliminary Findings Evaluating the Listening Project Protocol, Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2014; 2: 80. Published online 2014 Aug 1. doi: [10.3389/fped.2014.00080]
Chitty, J. (2018). The Triune Autonomic Nervous System Presentation,

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