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Deep Breaths

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

What if I told you that taking a few deep breaths could not only reset your mind but also reset your entire mood, your heart rate, and your blood pressure, and have lasting benefits over time for your nervous system, all without having to change a single thing about your circumstances or environment - would you do it more often?

Your 10th cranial nerve, also known as the Vagus Nerve, derives from the meaning "to wander." This cranial nerve has the widest distribution of all the cranial nerves, traveling from your brain stem and descending into your thoracic and abdominal cavity while branching off to innervate different organs. There's very little this wandering nerve does not touch as it innervates and forms nerve plexuses with our larynx, esophagus, lungs, heart, stomach, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, adrenals, intestines, and liver. The Vagus nerve is also the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest & digest" aspects of our body and is activated when we feel relaxed and safe.

Even though we don't have constant threats to physical safety as our ancestors did in the form of vicious lions, bears, and other predators, we, unfortunately, have our own self-created stressors. Things like traffic-filled commutes to work, angry bosses or complex projects, hurtful messages on social media, business marketing ploys to make us feel we are inadequate in every form imaginable, microaggressions and more can all add up, forming a low-level yet constant stress response. These stressors activate our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our "fight or flight" response. Our sympathetic nervous system was meant to help us respond to stressors like predators by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and constricting our blood vessels to divert blood flow away from our organs and instead direct it to our muscles to prepare us to react. However, when living chronically in a stress response state, we can suffer many adverse health consequences, like high blood pressure, heart disease, weakened immune system, cognitive difficulties, sleep problems, and mental health issues.

But when we consciously decide to take a deep breath, we can remind our bodies that we are safe and that threat is not lingering around every corner. Deep breaths help slow our heart rate, and your vagus nerve recognizes this safety cue and sends this information to the rest of your body. In turn, it allows your blood pressure to decrease and your blood vessels to dilate, promoting blood flow throughout to vital organs, which enables them to receive essential nutrients and oxygen so they can function at their best.

So give your body the break it needs and remind it of the safety that exists within you. Take a few deep breaths a few times a day, and begin to note the sense of calm that may follow.

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