What is the Vagus Nerve?
Updated: Mar 5, 2019
The origins of our coping mechanisms when we’re stressed (and why we can blame our parents).
You always hear people talking about how stress is the cause of their health and emotional problems.
Yet, I’m going to ask you to consider for a moment that it isn’t the stress per se that we should blame. What if were to tell you that the way in which your very own personal BIOLOGY is wired to respond to stress (threat, danger) how this happens is dependent on how you learned about responding to stress.
How your nervous system (the part of you that responds to stress) functions is a result of your early interactions with your parents and caretakers.
Why It Does “Run In The Family!”
When you are born you don’t have any capacity to self-regulate and soothe yourself. Fight and flight (adrenaline and survival systems) responses. Freeze response system, it means when you are born you get startled easily, you know when you are hungry, cold, when you are in danger. How you respond to everyday life as well as your own bodily sensations and there are few distinctions. With apprenticeship (from your caregivers) you learn if something is good or bad.
You are either learn how to calm yourself down via an adult nervous system that can self-regulate and soothe itself, or not.
Please note that being able to self-regulate doesn’t mean not getting stressed, it means being able to be in those spaces that might be uncomfortable and then coming through and out of it via your own capacities.
This lack of natural self-regulation is a cultural plague in our society and breaking the generational cycles via drugs, alcohol, medication, and even addictive exercise and/or mind body classes can be very challenging.
Your vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve is the largest branched nerve in the body. It originates high up in your body, near the base of your skull and travels throughout your face, throat, inner ear, heart, diaphragm and gastrointestinal tract to name a few.
The saying “It runs in the family” is quite appropriate for this process as our primary caregiver’s ventral vagal nerve is our blueprint. We copy and then form our nervous system by mimicking our caregivers. The passing along of traits and illnesses such as depression and heart disease is no different than the passing along of joy and emotional connection.
The good news is that these circuits CAN be changed later in life, the bad news is that these can’t be changed in isolation and without appropriate support and knowledge.
Monika Bassani offers counselling in West Norwood South East London.