Updated: Dec 30, 2020
What if I told you there was a really simple brain hack that would give you an advantage when you really need to bring your A-game. New research shows that we can pump the brakes on stress and get a cognitive advantage by activating one very specific nerve in the body.
Introducing the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the CEO of the parasympathetic nervous system - a.k.a as the “rest and digest” or "chill out" system. When we activate the vagus nerve, we can put the sympathetic nervous system - a.k.a. the "OMG/hair on fire/do something" system - on pause along with the stress hormones it releases.
The vagus nerve got its name from the way it “wanders” like a vagabond, sending out sensory fibers from your brainstem to your entire body. The longest of the cranial nerves, the vagus nerve controls your inner nerve center—the parasympathetic nervous system - and a vast range of crucial communication functions and sensory impulses to every organ in your body. New research has revealed that it may also be the missing link to treating serious, incurable diseases.
Stimulating the vagus nerve has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate which is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve pays attention to our breathing, and then communicates to the brain and the heart based upon our breath. For example, breathing hard increases the demands for oxygen throughout the body and the heart rate increases to accommodate.
Slow breathing isn't as exciting as a high-tech gadget designed to help you destress, but it’s crazy how effective it is. The next time you’re in a stressful situation, if you consciously slow down your breathing just for one minute, or even a few seconds, you can put yourself in a calmer state and your prefrontal cortex - or your thinking brain - will just work better.