tone your vagus

Posted on July 10th, 2013

The thighbone is connected to the hipbone…and our heart is connect to the head, and we are all one and… you get the picture. I read over the weekend about work being conducted by behavioural neuroscientists in the US that shows that our phone addiction is connected to our longevity,  and that

disconnecting from your iphone makes you live longer.

Image via Favim.com

Image via Favim.com

Essentially because our heart and our heads are connected. Biologically and figuratively (if you believe the two are different).

It works like this.

We have a vagus nerve that runs from our heart to our head. I’ve written on this incredible nerve here.

The better your “vagal tone” the better your health. That is, the more agility in the connection between your heart and head the better your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Vagal tone is improved by building that particular muscle – firing it up, using it as it’s meant to be used. Workin’ it. This translates, say the boffins, to smiling, connecting, engaging in face-to-face intimacy. Touching a real humanoid. Or at least having coffee with them. Simply using our facial muscles or adjusting to voice pitch can do the job.

We are like plastic. Or like a muscle. We have to use it or we lose it.

And so.

Our addiction to communicating via technology is making us sick. By rendering our vagal tone flabby.

An article in the New York Times on this subject picked it apart super well and pointed out that if loneliness can alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system (as science has shown) than parents glued to their phone around their kids are harming their kids, at a gene level.

“New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.”

We are what we do. We rewire ourselves when we do repeated activity. We need to choose, then, what we do over and over again. We need to choose who we are.

I don’t want to be defined by a knee-jerk need to be available and responsive. I want to be selective and active. I want to choose my life, not be led by gushing, pinging notifications. This weekend I turned off ALL mobile data on my phone for almost two days. I have to do dramatic things like this to break the addiction I have, to undo that gnarly muscle and retone my vagals.

It’s an interesting way to view things, hey. And that direct link between matters of the heart and addictions of the mind is so wonderfully illustrated by all this, don’t you reckon?

 

 

 

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  • cheryl

    Spot on Sarah, joining the dots! ( it’s literally a circular thing) … thanks so much for reminding us that they are gadgets, machines, devices… super convenient, but they don’t define or control us. Didn’t have the science about the connection, just a hunch, before your post.

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  • Aglowgirl

    I recently retired as a midwife after 35 years: one of the things that bugged me and contributed to my departure from a profession I had loved was that women did not pay attention to their babies— texting or phoning or watching TV while learning (or supposedly learning) about their babies.
    This comment makes total sense to me. We MUST engage properly with our babies.

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Midwives and nurses see all!

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  • http://westendgirl.ca Ariane

    Are you familiar with the term “central sensitivity syndrome”? I’ve been told that I have it (and I would suspect it’s a label you might get slapped with if you saw the same crappy specialist I did). But for however crappy the doc was, there’s definitely something to it.

    I haven’t been even slightly able to get a specialist (they all seem to hate life and have no interest in really solving things!) to dig deeper into nerve sensitivity and vagal function, but I truly believe it’s at the root of my reflux issues (don’t worry, I’m not on PPIs, at this point at least!)

    There’s something called “post-viral vagal neuropathy” (PVVN) which is when vagal nerve function is damaged via a combination of virus and also physical damage from excessive and long term coughing. Some people get it after a severe/lengthy flu or bronchitis – I had such a thing (it didn’t resolve for 8 months thanks to doctor error in my diagnosis) about 4 years ago, and then magically developed reflux.

    Specialists won’t dignify me with a discussion about it *rolls eyes* as they just want to drug me and get me out the door, but I’ve had a lot of issues (belching attacks, vasovagal syncope, etc.) since then that seem to confirm my suspicion. And I have learned that in rare cases, reflux can be caused by sphincter malfunction that is directly tied to vagal issues.

    Anyway, rambly but I thought this might be useful info to others and an interesting piece of the puzzle…

    Continually grateful for your work Sarah, y’all make me feel like less of a weirdo. :)

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    We’re all weird. At least the good ones are! Good luck with your journey through it all…x

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  • Naomi Lee

    I would have thought this until I actually had a baby last year and literally spent hours alone on my couch expressing milk for my baby (because, despite valiant attempts & lots of help, I couldn’t get her to attach) and the hours feeding it to her (which was slow going as she had acid reflux & it sometimes hurt her to drink)… I was so grateful for my iPhone as it was the only thing that connected me to my friends & the outside world … The conduit for moral support & the reason I wasn’t so lonely

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    Patricia Reply:

    Yes, I remember when my grandson was born 14 years ago, he used to get very bad reflux after a feed. Oh yes and after breastfeeding my daughter 45 years ago, she used to projectile vomit, I was left wandering whether to feed her again, because the feed was brought back up.

    oh……
    let’s be honest here. There are times in this life, when we just have to do what we have to do, without ‘friends’. We don’t have to tweet, instagram, phone, facebook, blog or whatever any new fangle dangle thing comes along to connect, to tell, to share. There are moments in our lives when we can’t get moral support or we may be lonely or left alone with a situation, but as adults and parents, we just have ‘deal’ with it.

    Parents should be teaching their children to be ‘resilient’, but how can that be when they grow observing their parents with this need to tell the world, about every bloody thing that goes wrong in their lives via modern technology.

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    Nicky Reply:

    Whoa that’s a bit harsh Patricia! I agree that this modern tendancy to over-share and the need to be constantly connected via social media is often vulgar and pathetic but perhaps Naomi was referring to the other edge of the sword – the good that can come from being connected. As she said she was just looking for moral support. Hopefully she found it.

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    Patricia Reply:

    Nicky, you may have perceived it as harsh, but sometimes reality is harsh.

    What Sarah was saying in this post, was to connect without the technology. It has been done you know for centuries. I feel that the message is we are breeding a generation who connect but don’t how to ‘connect’ the human way. Sure there is fantastic good to come from this ‘constantly’ in touch eg the outback, home schooling. Business. Not in our personal lives.
    But to get it into perspective, going through a rough patch, feeling down, feeling happy, not noticing your children whilst sitting at the park, walking along the street, at the movies, shopping, even having coffee with other people, people are on the phone or texting.

    Sensations, feelings, emotions, can all come from eye to eye, tone of the voice, the lingering presence of another person, the sharing and the other understanding what was shared.

    Nope you can’t get that with all of that button pushing and multi tasking phone conversations.

    Patricia Reply:

    I meant to add, in the latter of my last comment was all of these human sensations experienced of feeling etc., they stimulate so many of our senses and as Sarah was posting about re the Vagus Nerve.

    lisa Reply:

    Hear hear Patricia.I agree 100%.

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    Clare Reply:

    New mums should whatever they need to do to get by – and deserve our support and compassion not judgment. If a smartphone helps get you through those early days and weeks with your sanity in tact then so be it. This is an issue shared widely across our society, so why use it as a platform to brow beat already vulnerable new mums?

    Hannah Reply:

    Patricia, 45 years ago woman at home with a baby tended to have more support through living closer to their families and from other women who stayed at home with their children. Now new mothers are often far from their families and almost fewer women in the same situation.

    I understand your point but life is rarely so black and white.

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    Nicky Reply:

    well said Hannah – that was exactly my point. Life is not black and white. And to Clare’s point too – whatever gets you through the night – especially as a new mum-so long as you’re not hurting anyone.

  • Patricia

    I am with you 100% on this. How right you are.

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  • Jeanette de Fleurette

    A comment re heartburn/ reflux that I have been suffering from for 2 years…. I am paleo and low fodmaps…. Despite this still have episodes. I was chatting to someone last night ( in person ) and guess what? I said my Mum died suddenly 2 years ago and I have heart burn….. I finally got it!!! I have Heart Burn…. Of course!!! Real break through… !!! Our minds and bodies and hearts are completely connected.

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Nice discovery!

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  • Lorna

    Funny timing. I was just reflecting on how the choir I joined has really helped me with ptsd symptoms, and this very day, you post this article and the BBC post this article about choirs that even mentions the vagus nerve. It’s fab: we should all be singing in groups more! And my choir is called the ‘Can’t Sing Choir’ so please, no ‘I can’t sing’s as excuses…

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23230411

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  • Sabina

    Hi Sarah,
    Im unable to find the article on the vagus at the link above; it goes to one about leaky gut (also interesting!). I would love to read more about this nerve. Thanks for directing me to this article or checking up with the link. Many thanks for your work. You’re wonderful by the way :-)
    Sabina

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    Debra Reply:

    Hi Sabina, I too clicked through to the article about leaky gut and it does talk about vagus nerve down below.

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    Sabina Reply:

    Thanks Debra! :-)

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  • Joanna

    I’m a new parent and my partner is always telling me to ” please move that phone away from our baby”! I’m guilty of texting while breastfeeding. I’m putting the phone down! Thanks Sarah for bringing this to my attention. I want the best for my daughter and I don’t want a flabby vagus nerve either!

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