Work Out That Love Nerve

Editor’s note: We’re featuring blog posts by other amazing local therapists. This week, Ania Scanlan, is providing excellent ideas for tapping into the power of your Vagus Nerve.

Of all the classes, courses, and trainings in grad school and beyond, remembering information about the vagus nerve gave me the most trouble. The name, what it did, how it was important just didn’t stick with me. Until someone said “you know, the love nerve.”

What is the Love Nerve?

Turns out, “love nerve” is an easy to remember name for the vagus nerve. It was dubbed the “love nerve” by its researcher, Stephen Porges. The “love nerve” is one of the 12 cranial nerves, connecting the brain to major systems in the body. It’s also the longest cranial nerve, running from the brain all the way to the abdomen.

The vagus nerve is the main part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system that calms our nervous system and oversees many of our body’s crucial functions, like immune system response, digestion, and heart rate. The “love nerve” also boosts oxytocin (the hormone that increases feelings of love and connection).

Why should I care?

In times of high stress, our bodies get ready to either fight, run away, or stay frozen in place. When the danger disappears, our bodies know to relax. But, in our society the danger doesn’t always disappear. Think of the impact the pandemic has had on our lives for a prolonged period of time or the recent increase in gun violence. These are the times of high stress, all the time. Our bodies constantly stay in high alert and that takes toll on our mental well being. This is where the vagus nerve comes in. It triggers a relaxation response in our bodies. The relaxation response in turn counterbalances the fight, flight, or freeze response. To make the “love nerve” stronger and available whenever we need it, we need to exercise it.

4 Ways to Make the Love Nerve Stronger

1. Breathe slowly and deeply. The moment we experience stress our breathing speeds up and becomes shallow. Some people stop breathing altogether – the breath becomes barely noticeable. This is an automatic response, not something we pay attention to. We can counteract this tendency by focusing on our breath. You can take a deep breath anywhere. Try it now:

  • Bring your attention to your breath
  • Drop your shoulders
  • Notice any tension in your body
  • Now, breathe in slowly into your stomach (your stomach rounds out like a balloon
  • Now, slowly breathe out (slow it down, way down)
  • Repeat a few times.

What do you notice? Likely that your body relaxes. Make deep breathing your daily routine by incorporating it into your every day life.

2. Sing out loud. Or hum. Or just gargle. I was taught to gargle after brushing my teeth. Always wondered why that was and never really got a satisfying explanation (clear out your throat, I guess). Have you ever wondered why you feel better, lighter, less stressed after belting out a song? Me too. Now we know – singing, humming, and gargling (try doing all three at the same time) activate the “love nerve” and calm down the nervous system. Add some of your awesome dance moves. You got it!

3. Engage your diving reflex. My first response was “What? No, thank you. I’m good on land.” Actually, engaging the diving reflex in this situation has nothing to do with actual diving. Rather, it has to do with your body’s response if you were to submerge in cold water, and it’s a way to stimulate the vagus nerve. To engage the diving reflex (without diving), splash cold water on your face. The result? Your heart rate slows down, blood flow to your brain increases, your body relaxes. Engaging your diving reflex cools down your nervous system and calms it down.

4. Connect with others. Healthy connections with others regulate the nervous system. Whether in person, on the phone, or online – connect with the people you enjoy hanging out with, playing games, watching movies, hugging. Connect.

There are many ways to exercise the “love nerve.” Do it daily for best results. Your body and mind will thank you.

Experiencing high stress in your life, and want help managing it? Contact Ania to schedule today.

Find Ania at:

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Instagram @ empoweryoutherapy

Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the views, values, or stance of POW! Psychotherapy, its owners and therapists, or other contributors.

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