The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure

The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure | Psychology Today

Researchers continue to confirm that daily habits of mindset and behavior can create a positive snowball effect through a feedback loop linked to stimulating your vagus nerve.

Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety.

  • A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being.
  • A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.  

In 1921, a German physiologist named Otto Loewi discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve caused a reduction in heart rate by triggering the release of a substance  he coined Vagusstoff (German: “Vagus Substance”).

The “vagus substance” was later identified as acetylcholine and became the first neurotransmitter identified by scientists.

Vagusstuff is literally a tranquilizer that you can self-administer simply by taking a few deep breaths with long exhales.

You can consciously tap the power of your vagus nerve to create inner-calm on demand

The vagus nerve is known as the wandering nerve because it has multiple branches that diverge from two thick stems rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem that wander to the lowest viscera of your abdomen touching your heart and most major organs along the way.

The vagus nerve is constantly sending sensory information about the state of the body’s organs “upstream”  to your brain

80-90% of the nerve fibers in the vagus nerve are dedicated to communicating the state of your viscera up to your brain.

When people say “trust your gut” they are in many ways saying, “trust your vagus nerve.”

As with any mind-body feedback loop, messages also travel “downstream” from your conscious mind through the vagus nerve signaling your organs to create an inner-calm so you can “rest-and-digest” during times of safety or to prepare your body for “fight-or-flight” in dangerous situations.

The sympathetic nervous system is geared to rev you up like the gas pedal in an automobile – it thrives on adrenaline and cortisol and is part of the fight-or-flight response.

The parasympathetic nervous system is the polar opposite. The vagus nerve is command central for the function of your parasympathetic nervous system. It is geared to slow you down like the brakes on your car and uses neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.  

 

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