What The Vagus Nerve Is And Why You Should Know About It
Simply put, the Vagus nerve is your 10th cranial nerve. You have 12 cranial nerves in all, and the 10th one is super special.
It’s called the Vagus nerve because it comes from a Latin word that means “wandering.” And it wanders all over your body.
It’s a major component of your autonomic nervous system, which has two branches, the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch. The sympathetic branch is the “fight or flight” part of your nervous system. And the parasympathetic branch is the “rest and digest” part.
Well, the Vagus nerve is the main cranial nerve that makes up the parasympathetic nervous system. And it also has two branches, the ventral branch and the dorsal branch.
The ventral branch is the what I like to call the “Very good feelings” branch of the Vagus nerve, and the dorsal branch is what I call the “Depressed and isolated feelings” branch of the Vagus nerve.
When the ventral branch of your Vagus nerve is firing, it sends signals to your brain that all is well and you feel good. Your heart rate is regular, you’re breathing deeply, you can look people in the eye, and you can have two-way conversations and tune out all those “squirrels.” You feel happy and active. You’re interested in things and the world is safe. You can have fun, and you feel peaceful. You are mindful of your experiences and can connect with others. You are organized, you follow through with plans, and you take care of yourself. You take time to play, enjoy things, and engage with others. You feel productive at work, you can regulate your feelings and you have a sense that things are manageable. You have a healthy heart, regulated blood pressure, and a healthy immune system. You digestion is good, you get quality sleep, and you have an overall sense of well-being.
Sounds good, right?
Well, unfortunately, for lots of people, especially those who are suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship problems, attention problems, digestion issues, irritability, chronic pain, low energy, lack of interest in anything, isolation, memory problems, etc, their ventral vagus nerve is not firing.
It’s their dorsal vagus, or the fight-or-flight spinal nerves that are firing and creating all those negative symptoms.
The good news is that if you are one of those people, there are things you can do to get your ventral vagus to fire. You can exercise it and tone it just like a muscle. And like muscular exercises, the effect is cumulative.
In the future I will write another blog explaining some of the self-help exercises you can use to tone your ventral vagus and bring a greater overall sense of well being into your life.
For now, know this. Your mental health problem may be as simple as a poorly toned ventral vagus, and now you have a starting point from which you can work on changing that.
If it turns out to be more complicated, feel free to give me a call. We’ll talk.