Depression and anxiety have become an epidemic in our society. There are many conditions which can lead to depression and/or anxiety such as neurochemical imbalances, emotional triggers, childhood trauma, side effects of medication, genetic pre-disposition, environmental factors such as stress at work, in relationships, financial problems, and more. There are different types of depression with a varying severity of symptoms. The same holds true for anxiety. Physical symptoms may be fatigue, exhaustion, distress, difficulty focusing, irritability, physical pain, etc.
In addition to treating the symptoms of depression/anxiety with medication and therapy we can contribute to and support our own healing with alternative therapies. We know that body and mind work together. Our Autonomous Nervous System is tied to our organs and emotions. The vagus nerve is part of it. It runs bi-laterally to and from the brain and the organs. It helps control anxiety and depression in the brain; in the heart it controls heart rate variability, heart rate, and blood pressure; it increases stomach acidity, digestive juices, and intestinal flow; in the liver and pancreas it helps control glucose stores and balance; it helps the gallbladder release bile, which helps the release of toxins and breaks down fat. By tracking certain biological processes such as heart rate, breathing rate, and heart rate variability the “vagal tone” – the health of the vagus nerve – can be measured. A higher vagal tone allows the body to quickly return to a resting state after a person experiences stress. It is associated with improved lung capacity, mood regulation, energy levels, and more. Low vagal tone is associated with depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment, auto-immune diseases, food sensitivities, and gut problems.
BREATH affects the vagal tone. Some ways to incorporate healing techniques into your daily life are:
Deep, slow breathing reduces anxiety and improves mood.
Exercise/movement increases dopamine (the “feel good” hormone) receptors, serotonine and other endorphins and thereby helps prevent depression and reduces stress.
Cold exposure – researchers found that cold therapy on a regular basis can lower your symphathetic “fight or flight” response and increase the parasymphathetic activity through the vagus nerve. (ice bath for feet, cold shower, ice cubes/cold water on face).
Music, chanting, singing – the vagus nerve innervates the vocal cords and muscles in the back of the throat. Singing, chanting, humming, gargling can stimulate the vagus nerve.
Yawning – the incoming cool air helps cool and increase blood flow to your neck, face, sinuses, and head. It increases chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and more. Yawning on purpose elicits the same response.
Laughter is good for brain, body and mood even if it is forced. The brain chemistry occurring is the same.
Meditation, mindfulness practice, yoga can positively alter brain mechanisms. It helps improve your mood and resilience, and decreases anxiety. It increases activity in the left pre-frontal cortex, the happiness section of the brain.
Grounding – connection with nature. Contact with earth’s surface creates positive effects on a physical and emotional/mental level. As little as 15 to 30 minutes of grounding a day have shown improvements.
MASSAGE and reflexology. Research shows that depressive1 and anxiety2 symptoms are reduced through massage therapy. Reflexology reduced anxiety and depression in postmenopausal women3.