Vagal brake is a term used in physiology to describe the process by which your body slows you down. In a good way, most of the time. To reduce stress, for example. If you want to learn how to activate it consciously, let us dive in.
Your body has something known as the vagus nerve, the job of which is to balance your need to respond to threats. When threatened, your body activates itself through a sympathetic response.
That activation has to stop at some point. Otherwise, you would become an energizer bunny. That is the role of the vagus brake.
So how can you activate it on your own?
Let us start with cold water, especially water splashed on your face and nose, which can have a dramatic effect on your vagal brake. Your nose has sensors for water, perhaps useful when our ancestors lived in water.
Exposure to cold water makes your body believe you may be submerging yourself in water. It instantly slows the heart rate down, reducing your stress.
Have you noticed chewing helps you reduce stress? It was not a coincidence. The act of chewing triggers the vagus nerve, activating your brake and reducing your stress.
Let us turn to longer-term solutions now.
Omega 3, specifically EPA and DHA, protects the heart. Omega 3 improves vagal tone, a term used to describe the working of your brakes, slowing the heart down. Omega 3 has also been shown to reduce stress directly.
Meditation has been shown to reduce the activity of the brain. Your brain was the hub, directing the body by sending signals that you were stressed. Perhaps it is for this reason that we believe stress occurs in the head.
When the activity of the brain slows down, your perception of stress slows down, activating your vagal brake. Your cortisol levels fall, and you feel better.
Perhaps the best of all is physical activity. Staying active both keeps your mind off the reasons why you were stressed and improves blood circulation, oxygenation, and breathing. For this reason, you might find yourself pacing around when stressed.
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