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The vagus nerve!

When learning about nervous system regulation actually makes you more nervous...


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#TransparentTuesdays

Hi friend,


If you’re interested in health and wellness, you’ve probably come across content about nervous system dysregulation and regulation over the last couple of years. 


Photo of someone's nervous system

Maybe you’ve learned a bit about the freeze response and trauma healing, or read The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, for example. Maybe you’ve heard people talking about the vagus nerve, and how a lot of commonly experienced mental, emotional, and physical symptoms are the result of the nervous system getting sort of chronically stuck in the “on” or “off” position. Maybe you’ve even explored self-soothing and co-regulation techniques in therapy, or become interested in how we can use neuroscience, biohacking, or neuroplasticity to feel better!


These complex but fascinating topics can play an important healing role when it comes to how we relate to our bodies, understand and take care of ourselves, improve our mental/physical health, and show up in our relationships, and I’m very glad to see them becoming more mainstream over the last few years. (They inform a lot of the work I do, both personally and with clients!)


That said, I take issue with some of the content I see being put out there about nervous system regulation and the vagus nerve. 


Both because the nervous system is so complex, and because our nervous system state is both influenced by, and able to influence, so many areas of life (like our physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, and more), talking about it can easily get a little… overwhelming. 


Given that the whole point of talking about all this is to help people feel more calm, grounded, present, resilient, and able to thrive, it really bothers me when I see practitioners presenting complex scientific concepts to already overwhelmed people in a way that will very likely lead to increased stress, anxiety, insecurity, and feelings of hopelessness! 


On the other hand, however, I see plenty of practitioners cherry picking or dumbing down the information to such an extent that their audience will likely become inappropriately fixated on one aspect of the work, to the detriment of the whole system.


On top of that, the health and wellness industry is chock full of people who only have a tenuous grasp on the actual science, but are willing to run with what they think they understand, to make themselves sound smarter and boost their businesses. 


This one, I think, is the worst offender, since people in this position are the most likely to be spreading false or incomplete information in a way that causes the most harm— for example, I often see personal trainers, nutritionists, coaches, and sometimes even therapists seeming to suggest that it’s “bad” to be dysregulated, or that finding ourselves in a state of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or collapse means we “haven’t healed yet” and need to “work harder” to get/be/stay regulated. 


Let’s just pause for a moment here and consider what’s happening in that kind of messaging. The person is clearly moralizing a natural biological function, which is inaccurate and inappropriate. Layering judgment and meaning onto a nervous system state in this way discourages body neutrality and self-acceptance, while encouraging shame, anxiety, and self-criticism: all completely counterproductive to the goal of feeling more regulated, even if that was the state goal. (Smh.)


But most importantly, that shit is just not scientifically accurate. 


Photo of a rainbow slinky

The truth is that a healthy nervous system is a flexible nervous system, which can both amp you up and calm you down, depending on what the situation calls for. And that includes the ability to go into fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and collapse sometimes!! 


So, is it true that most people would benefit from using neuroscience to improve the flexibility and health of their nervous systems? And that doing so would probably improve their mental and physical health and well-being, self-worth and relationships, and overall lives? 


Yes. 


But is it true that being dysregulated is “bad” or “wrong” or a “problem” to be fixed and avoided? Hell no… and presenting it that way is likely to just push people’s nervous systems in a less healthy and flexible direction!!


How can we access this powerful and important topic to feel better, then, without getting more overwhelmed and stressed out as we try to learn about it?


Well, we have to seek out educators who present the information in a scientifically accurate and complete format, but also in ways that feel safe and empowering, and whose teaching style supports a growth mindset, body neutrality, and self-compassion.


Personally I love Jessica Maguire for this. Jessica is known as @repairing_the_nervous_system on Instagram, and she created something called the Nervous System School to teach people (including health and wellness practitioners using this information with clients) how to repair and improve the health and flexibility of their nervous systems using the vagus nerve!


I’ve followed Jessica’s work for a long time, and was so excited to have her as a guest on my podcast This Is (Not) About Your Body to share her expertise on these topics!! 


I know you’re going to love our episode, whether these concepts and topics are brand new to you, or you’ve been exploring them for a while!


Ready to dive in and learn more??


*By the way, if you love my podcast be sure to subscribe and leave me a review!!


Here’s to science, healing, and thriving,

Jessi


PS: Looking for help on your journey to feel better? Apply for coaching with me now!

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