Prioritize Mental Health to Boost Your Mood, Alleviate Financial Anxiety, and More

By Brad Krause

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health concerns — such as depression and anxiety — can lead to premature death, with some people dying as much as two decades younger as a result. While the right combination of medication and psychotherapy can often help to treat or relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, a good self-care routine can also contribute to better psychological health and well-being. Mindful Framing wants you to be happy and healthy, so read on for information that can help with these concerns.

Care for Your Wallet, Calm Your Mind

Finances are one of the biggest stressors we face as humans, especially during this time of pandemic-induced economic uncertainty, If you’re worried about money and losing quality sleep because of it, however, caring for your wallet and regaining some control over your finances could help to ease some of your anxiety and boost your psychological health and well-being. To get a handle on your financial anxieties, for instance, you could start contributing more money to your retirement account, building an emergency savings fund, or repaying your smaller, more attainable debts.

 

If you own your home, refinancing your mortgage could be another worthwhile option to consider when you’re stressing about finances. By refinancing, you’d use the equity in your home to free up some cash for other expenses, or you could lower the amount of your monthly mortgage.

Sleep Better, Live Happier

Quality sleep is crucial to our physical, mental, and emotional health — and Healthline explains that consistently poor sleeping habits can lead to obesity, impaired brain function, and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, sleep deprivation, depression, chronic stress, attention difficulties, and anxiety often go hand-in-hand.

 

If you’re suffering from insomnia, depression, anxiety, or another mental health concern, a good night’s sleep could help to alleviate these issues and boost your psychological well-being:

 

  • Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after 3 pm.
  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes at most.
  • Follow the same sleep schedule all week, even on weekends.
  • Relax with a gentle yoga class, guided meditation, or deep breathing exercises before heading to bed.

Eat Nutritiously, Ease Depression

In addition to caring for your wallet and getting plenty of sleep each night, some foods have been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression — including carrots, bananas, beans, beets, and avocados. As such, incorporating these mood-boosting foods into your diet could help to improve your psychological, emotional, and physical health and well-being over time. Plus, many of these depression-fighting foods can be incorporated into smoothies, salads, sandwiches, veggie burgers, and other delicious, easy-to-prepare meals.

 

Diet relates to energy as well, and many people battling mental health concerns find themselves struggling with sluggishness. Thankfully, there are products that can help. If you’re having trouble with weight loss or with finding the motivation for working out, a metabolism boosting supplement might give you the spark you need to get the ball rolling.

Set Fitness Goals

Exercise can play a key role in managing mental health. As the Myeloma Crowd explains, working out can help your body produce feel-good chemistry that protects your mind and promotes healthy thought patterns. Just five minutes a day can be enough to put a little happier spring in your step, so don’t be afraid to start small.

 

It’s important to avoid setting yourself up for failure, so keep your goals achievable. Consider adding a tool to measure your progress, such as an Apple Watch Series 6. Having something that tracks your movement throughout the day and helps you plan workouts is a great way to feel encouraged and stay on track.

Stay Positive

While tech can add to your well-being, sometimes it can also detract. To boost mental health, it’s also important to step away from social media if you’re already feeling self-conscious, open up to your loved ones when you’re struggling with insecurities, and surround yourself with positive, health-conscious individuals who can help you to achieve your wellness goals. Surround yourself with positive vibes, and step away from negative ones.

 

The abovementioned self-care strategies can all help to boost your happiness and psychological well-being, but you shouldn’t be afraid to speak to a therapist if you think you could also benefit from counseling, medication, or a combination of the two.

 

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4 Infallible Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Modern medicine focuses on cures, not on lifestyle interventions that can prevent many diseases depending on a healthy immune system. Let’s actively boost our immune system to overcome deadly pathogens, carcinogens and self-inflicted wounds driven by anxiety and stress. Let’s realize that our immune system is at the core of our wellbeing, regulating our organism’s response to infections, cancer and autoimmunity.

Basics of the Immune System

The immune system is a sophisticated set of proteins, cells, tissues and organs working together to protect any organism. Even trees have rudimentary immune systems! Although its main goal is to repel infections, it also plays a role patrolling and controlling cancer while potentially able to trigger autoimmune diseases.

The immune system consists of a number of important players, described as members of a detective task force in chapter 2 of the free kindle book Mindful Framing:

T Cells: These are the major orchestrators of all the components in the immune system. Some types of T cells are able to recognize infected and cancerous cells and directly kill or destroy them. Other T cells assist or regulate the activities of other immune cells.

B Cells: These cells play a major role in producing billions of antibodies, tiny molecules that are always on the look out for pathogens and unwanted cells. B cells play a crucial role in controlling infections by tagging pathogens and cancer cells to be recognized by macrophages, but can also generate antibodies causing autoimmune diseases.

Macrophages: These cells recognize pathogens or unwanted cells that need to be removed while interacting with T cells, informing them which cells are allies or enemies.

Natural Killer Cells: These are rapid-response cells able to kill infected and cancerous cells, like the T cells, but just relying on certain markers not requiring the intervention of other immune cells.

Age and the Immune System

The elderly are more susceptible to infectious diseases, and unfortunately, more likely to die from them. This is because as we age, our immune system is less effective at combating infections, and less responsive to vaccines.

Why is this? As we age, the total number of T cells remain the same; however, the number of naïve T cells decrease. Naïve T cells are T cells that learn to recognize specific pathogens. They then develop into cells that are specialists in future encounters with those specific pathogens.

Additionally, senescent T cells, which are T cells that have deteriorated with age, are easily exhausted after becoming active and start producing inflammation-causing substances potentially leading to chronic systemic inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis or lupus.

There also seems to be an association between nutrition and immunity in older individuals. The elderly can display micronutrient malnutrition, a form of malnutrition which occurs when one is deficient in various essential vitamins and minerals. This is because they tend to eat less and have a less diverse diet.

 

You can optimize your immune system by using these 4 infallible lifestyle interventions to boost its function:

Eat a healthy diet

There are many definitions of what a “healthy diet” is, but the general consensus is that it is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables and poor in processed foods. Research has shown that fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E, which can boost your immune function. In addition, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants which fight inflammation.

In particular, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant that not only reduces disease-causing inflammation, but also boosts the immune system by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.

Likewise, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that aids in the destruction of free radicals. It also boosts the immune system in a number of ways. For instance, it promotes the production and coordinated function of T cells and B cells, and protects them from free radical damage. Lastly, vitamin C strengthens the skin barrier, preventing pathogens from entering the body in the first place. Good sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, lemons, red peppers and other fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that it increases the T cells ability to form an effective immune synapse. An effective immune synapse means having a close contact between immune system cells, essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. You can get Vitamin E from nuts, seeds, broccoli and spinach.

Having a balanced diet leads to a healthy gut, essential for a healthy immune system. That’s because the majority of your immune system resides in the gut, in fact, up to 80%.

In order to maintain a healthy gut, you need to maintain a good balance between the good bacteria, and the bad bacteria in your gut. One way you can do this is by consuming probiotics, either in supplement form or in food. Good food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables.

Another way in which you can improve your gut health is to avoid or limit your consumption of highly processed foods. This is because highly processed foods can cause inflammation of the gut.

Get enough sleep

We all know the importance of sleep for rejuvenating our mind and organism, but did you know that it can also boost our immune system?

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a reduction in immune function. For example, research has shown that people who sleep less than 5 hours a night are more likely to have suffered a recent cold.

Why is this so? Well, in order for your T cells to destroy pathogens, they need to come in close contact with them. Sticky substances called integrins facilitate this contact; think of them as the glue that your T cells need to stick to pathogens.

Stress hormones make these integrins less sticky. When you get enough sleep, your stress hormones drop, causing the integrins to stick better. And when they’re stickier, your T cells are better able to adhere to pathogens, boosting your immunity.

In order to get enough sleep, it is critical to optimize your sleep environment. For instance, you’ll want to reduce your exposure to blue light from blue-light emitting devices such as TVs, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. This is because blue light reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for good sleep.

You’ll also want to make sure your sleep environment is quiet, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep. If you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may want to wear earplugs, or turn on a white-out machine to drown out noise.

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not too hot or too cold, as either factor can result in poor sleep. You can do this by wearing night wear that keeps you at a comfortable temperature, adjusting your thermostat accordingly, and using appropriate bedding.

Practice anxiety management

Anxiety and chronic stress affect not only your mind, but your immune system too. Chronic stress decreases the number of T cells and B cells. This in turn increases your risk for viral infections, such as colds and cold sores. Chronic stress also activates latent viruses, viruses which have been dormant in your body. The activation of latent viruses due to chronic stress causes wear and tear on your immune system, making it exhausted and “burnt out”, unable to deal with everyday assaults to your body. Lastly, chronic stress results in chronic inflammation, causing autoimmune diseases.

Due to the effect of chronic stress on the immune system, it is important to practice anxiety management. You can do this in a number of ways. One way is to practice mindfulness-based meditation. This lowers your cortisol levels, which in turn reduces inflammation. Mindful framing also achieves this effect by transforming your anxiety into vital energy while developing a mental framework focusing on connecting to nature, emotional intelligence and invigorating your organism. Practicing yoga also lowers your cortisol levels and relaxes your nervous system, thus reducing inflammation.

Besides practicing these mind-body activities, simply spending time in nature can boost your immune system. When you’re out in nature, the sounds, smells, and sights can also induce feelings of calm. Additionally, some research shows that phytoncide, an antibacterial substance released by trees, increases Natural Killer Cell activity. So, the next time you’re under stress, go for a walk and while you’re at it, practice some mindful framing.

Engage in regular exercise

You know the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?’’. Well, that saying can also apply to exercise. In a study examining the effects of exercise on the immune system, participants who walked at least 20 minutes a day, a minimum of 5 days a week, had almost 50% less sick days than those who walked once a week or less. What’s more, when they did get sick, they were sick for a shorter period, and their symptoms were milder.

Engaging in regular exercise becomes even more important as you get older. That’s because research shows that exercise can increase the number of T cells, and even improve the response to vaccines in the elderly.

However, exercise intensity matters. You want to aim for moderate intensity exercise, not high intensity exercise. This is because engaging in prolonged high intensity exercise, without enough recovery time, may increase the risk of illness. So, go ahead and get some exercise, but try not to overdo it.

 

We live in an increasingly hostile environment to our bodies and minds, and despite many miracle therapies in today’s medicine, prevention is still better than cure. So, take the time to boost your immune system in a holistic manner. Your very life could depend on it.

How to Prevent Burnout in 5 Easy Steps

Have you ever felt like a candle burning at both ends? Work and everyday life are increasingly demanding and with today’s 24/7 technology, the boundary between work and our personal lives is getting blurrier and blurrier. Compound that with a myriad of obligations and little or no time to relax and chill out, and it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state in which you are emotionally, mentally, and often physically exhausted as a result of prolonged or repetitive stress. Though it’s often a result of work, it can also occur as a result of parenthood or caregiving.

Besides hectic work or taking on many responsibilities, other factors may lead to burnout. These include how you ‘live’ life, and how you ‘view’ life.

Classic signs of burnout include:

  • Feeling exhausted most of the time
  • Feeling like a failure
  • Getting sick a lot
  • Turning to unhealthy living, junk food, drugs, or alcohol to deal with life

Unfortunately, burnout doesn’t disappear by itself and if left untreated can result in chronic ailments like depression, diabetes and heart disease.

High functioning anxiety and burnout

About one in five people suffer from some form of anxiety condition. So, chances are that you know one of them; perhaps that person is you. Many people with anxiety suffer from what is termed “high functioning anxiety.”

Someone with high functioning anxiety can handle career and relationship obligations. However, their anxiety causes them a lot of emotional pain. So, they likely don’t require hospitalization for their anxiety, but it is distressing enough for them to be able to benefit from some sort of ongoing outpatient therapy.

People with high functioning anxiety have a myriad of symptoms that can lead to burnout. These include a need to constantly be busy, perfectionist tendencies, and not being able to say no to others. So, by treating the anxiety through modalities such as individual/group therapy, and medication, this not only helps manage the anxiety, but may also prevent burnout.

So, now that you know what burnout is and how detrimental it can be, how can you prevent it? Here are my 5 easy-to-implement ways to prevent burnout:

Deal with your emotions

Life is packed with emotional challenges. These include trying to keep up with the neighbours, the pressure to be successful in life and work, and the innate desire to have good personal relationships and a satisfying work life. It’s no wonder that we’re a ball of emotions.

However, from a young age, we’re taught to stuff and avoid our emotions rather than work with our emotions.  This leads to the all too common “coping” mechanisms such as alcohol, prescription/recreational drug use, and being glued to our screens all in an effort to repress our emotions.

But, repressing our emotions isn’t good for us; in fact, symptoms such an anxiety and depression may be the result of repressing of our emotions. This is because when we try to repress our emotions, it causes emotional and physical stress. This leads to not only emotional problems but physical problems such as cardiovascular disease, intestinal disorders, headaches, and autoimmune disease.

We can learn to deal with our emotions by practicing mindfulness-based meditation. The practice of mindful framing teaches how create a mental framework to acknowledge and sit with our emotions, to feel them deeply, and to let them pass on their own, as all emotions do eventually do.

Embrace life-long learning

When we’re in a job that feels monotonous, we have little control over, or doesn’t align with our life purpose or in which we don’t receive recognition, it can lead to burnout. But you can take control of your career by finding opportunities to learn and prepare for a brighter future.

By embracing life-long learning you’re more in control of your career. This is because as you learn new skills, you can progress in your career or even switch careers if need be. Learning also helps you become more adaptable to change, which is a source of stress for many people.

It will help you be resilient when a project doesn’t go away, when your organization shifts gears, or if your job changes. Having a learning mindset will help you weather the storms of change, which is a constant in today’s work environment.

Pursue a hobby

One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to pursue a hobby. This allows you to discover your creative side. When you focus on a hobby you are truly passionate about, you give your mind a break from your day-to-day stressors.

Ideally, you want to pursue some form of hobby that has nothing to do with work, or your stressor. You also want your hobby to be free of deadlines or rules in order to allow your mind to recharge.

What hobby you pursue depends on your interests. If you like writing, perhaps you can write a short story or even a memoir. If you like to work with your hands, gardening may be a good fit.

Pursuing a hobby is also a great way to amplify your life-learning goals. By engaging in something meaningful to you, and progressively learning, you further develop a sense of self-worth and competence, which may be lacking in other areas of your life.

Eat a balanced diet

When we’re under a lot of stress, good eating habits are often the first thing to go out the window; however, eating a balanced diet is even more important when we’re under stress. That’s because what you eat can significantly affect your mood and energy over the course of a day.

For instance, when you are under stress, you may turn to comfort foods such as French fries, pastries, or potato chips. Carbohydrates give us a sugar high, followed inevitably by a sugar crash in which our mood and energy crashes. Instead of food high in refined carbs, you want to focus on low-glycemic foods, which are foods that give you a constant stream of energy. These include foods high in fiber such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

You also want to increase your intake of foods that contain omega-3s. Omega-3s are fats which help boost your mind. These include foods such as fatty fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), flaxseed, and walnuts. Try and spread these foods over the course of your day. For instance, have some oatmeal sprinkled with ground flaxseed for breakfast, then for lunch, have a salad with walnuts, and for dinner have some salmon and vegetables. Or try intermittent fasting!

Get enough sleep

Not getting enough zzz’s is one of the risk factors that predicts burnout. So, it behooves you to get enough sleep. How much one needs varies from person to person, but in general you should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep a day. You want to get enough sleep where you feel rested when you get up, and alert for most of the day. By getting enough sleep, your mood will also improve, further reducing symptoms associated with burnout.

To get a good night’s sleep it’s important to minimize distractions that prevent you from going to, and staying asleep. These include limiting your blue light exposure from devices such as televisions, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. That’s because blue light decreases the production of melatonin, our sleep hormone.

You also want to make sure you sleep on a comfortable mattress, so you’re not tossing and turning during the night. Comfortable sleep wear is also beneficial as being either too hot or too cold at night can disrupt your sleep. By getting enough sleep you’ll be better able to handle the stresses of the day.

 

Life can get pretty stressful, and when that happens, you are more prone to burnout. Burnout has serious ramifications that impact your emotional and physical health. By learning how to prevent burnout from happening in the first place, you are creating a rock-solid platform to live your best life.

The 5 Building Blocks of your Memory Palace

Imagine no more misplacing your car keys or forgetting names, missing appointments. Imagine being able to be present, mindful of the moment while confident that anything you want to memorize is easily retrievable and safe, backed up in your synaptic cloud. Imagine having an indestructible hard drive inside your brain. Discover and develop your ‘Memory Palace’ right now!

Memory and the Hippocampus

The hippocampus, located inside the middle section of the brain,  plays a crucial role in helping us learn and remember things. It is involved in two types of memory: declarative memories and spatial relationship memories.

Declarative memories are memories related to facts and events. For example, when you are trying to memorize lines in a play.

Spatial relationship memories are memories related to routes or pathways, connecting ideas. For example, when you are trying to learn a new route through the city.

The hippocampus is also where your short term memories are transformed into long-term memories, mostly when an emotional tag is attached to them, which are then stored somewhere else in the brain, the limbic system.

Recent research suggests that the hippocampus may do more than help us remember things. It may also help us see, touch and hear. It is truly a remarkable brain circuitry.

Disorders of the Hippocampus

The hippocampus is quite sensitive, susceptible to neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, depression and stress. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected. In the early stages of the disease, patients suffer short term memory loss, and may find it hard to follow directions. Meanwhile, upwards of 50 percent of patients with epilepsy show damage in the hippocampus.

In severe depression, the hippocampus can shrink to 80% of its original volume. For those with chronic stress, cortisol affects the level at which neurons are added or eliminated, thus reducing the size of the hippocampus. This effect can be reversed by controlling stress.

The Memory Palace

A memory palace is a visualization technique based on creating a mind map based on different spaces or rooms in an imaginary building. It may include walkways  to connect memories, plans and ideas. This methodology leverages a familiar environment, such as your home or town, to connect declarative and spatial memories. To ensure memorization you visualize specific locations that you always recall in the same order. Try it out!

 

And to keep your memory palace in mint condition, let’s make sure your mental capacity and intellectual abilities are in top shape with these 5 building blocks:

Exercise                                   

We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks doesn’t work for humans. Getting older doesn’t mean that your brain will deteriorate.

Regular aerobic exercise can lower the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration that may occur as we age. In fact, aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve your memory as you age. In healthy adults, aerobic exercise improves not only memory, but attention span and the speed at which information is processed as well. And in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can definitely improve memory.

Why is this so? Animal studies show that when you exercise, the hippocampus grows new neurons, so-called neuroplasticity is taking place. Aerobic exercise also improves blood flow to the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.

Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and delivers more oxygen through your body, including the brain. You don’t have to go the gym and go on a treadmill or the elliptical, just pick an activity you like and move your body, such as a brisk walk.

Sleep

Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more forgetful? You may also find that when you don’t get enough sleep, it is harder to learn new things at the office, or at school. And for good reason. We need sleep in order to consolidate memories. Therefore, getting a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential to solidifying new memories, as well as storing long term memory.

You know that practice drives mastery, right? Well, resting may be just as important as practice when it comes to learning. According to research, the breaks that you take while learning is where the true memorization takes place. In fact, your brain needs a break about every 90 minutes to reach peak efficiency. So, listen to your body and let your brain reset at regular intervals. In a study with participants doing a typing test, those who took a regular 10-second rest got faster as time went on. And brain scans showed that the brain was not just relaxing, it was actually processing what had just been done, and forming memories of it, so that it could perform even better.

Mindfulness

Research has shown that those who regularly engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation have less age-related brain degeneration, better brain function, and show improvements in memory, particularly long-term memory and working memory.

This is because mindfulness meditation appears to increase your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, which in turn improves your memory.

Want to learn a visualization-based mindfulness practice? Try mindful framing, in which you become more mindful by visualizing different types of memory palaces, controlling your anxiety triggers, leveraging your 5 senses and imagining and connecting with Natural landscapes, Emotional relationships and caring for your Organism, the NEO Chi lifestyle.

Nutrition

You know the saying that “You are what you eat?” Well, it applies just as well to your body as to your brain. We all know that increased sugar intake can lead to obesity. But did you know that it may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well?

The Framingham Heart Study found that consuming too many sugar laden drinks, including so-called healthy drinks like fruit juice was associated with a lower brain volume, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

So, it is imperative to reduce your consumption of sugary beverages. Eliminate sodas. Not only are they sugary, they are devoid of any nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water if you are so inclined to drinking juice, or better yet, swap the fruit juice for fresh fruit instead, or just add slices of fruit into your water.

Reducing your caloric intake is a great way to lose or maintain your weight. Reducing your calorie intake may also improve your memory. A study found that elderly female participants who reduced their caloric intake by 30%, were able to improve their verbal memory scores.

In addition, certain foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, or omega-3s, such as seeds, nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables, will improve your memory.

Memorization

A lot of people have problems with their memory because they don’t actually make the effort to memorize. Indeed, memory is all about visualization, using your mind’s eye to imagine. If you create an image to represent an idea, a person or a task and place it somewhere in your memory palace, the greater the probability that you will recall that information.

Are you trying to remember the name of someone that you just met? Try visualization and association, if you just met a lady named Bee and she told you about her job as a chef, just imagine a bee flying around in the kitchen of your memory palace.

Are you trying to memorize a shopping list? Try linking, to remember to buy soap and sugar, imagine a cloud of soapy foam with floating sugar cubes pouring from the store entrance.

 

Life is full of distractions and we rely more and more on gadgets that make our life easier. However, we should devote time and attention to maintain our minds fit and ready. A healthy body needs a healthy mind.

 

4 Natural Ways to Activate the Vagus Nerve, your Pathway to Relaxation

Why do you breathe a sigh of relief when a stressful situation is resolved? Why is deep breathing or stretching your neck so relaxing?

Be thankful to your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. It contains ‘vagabond’ nerve fibers driving the ‘rest and digest’ response to key organs and body systems. This is the key pathway for our brain to connect with the entire organism and deactivate the ‘fight and flight’ response leading to anxiety and stress.

 

What is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve wanders throughout your body and in so doing connects your brain to a number of vital organs in your body, including your gut, lungs and heart.

It is the key component of the parasympathetic, ‘rest and digest,’ part of your autonomic nervous system. The other component of the system is the sympathetic, ‘fight or flight,’ response. An imbalance or lack of control of your autonomic response leads to anxiety and chronic stress. The sympathetic nerves are the gas pedal, revving you up, while the parasympathetic or vagus nerve puts the breaks in motion and slows you down.

The vagus nerve is key to feeling a sense of calm. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, feel-good hormones like prolactin and oxytocin are released. As a result, you feel less anxious and depressed, experience less tension headaches and form stronger social bonds.

It also controls many functions in your body that happen unconsciously. So, a well-functioning autonomic nervous system means better blood glucose and blood pressure control, better digestion and immunity, and less inflammation. You will also experience better heart health and less allergies.

On the other hand, if your vagus nerve is not functioning well, you may experience weight gain, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and chronic inflammation. Even, the so-called invisible disease or dysautonomia, affecting millions of people globally.

 

What is the Gut-Brain Connection?

The vagus nerve extends into the digestive system. In fact, close to 20% of the vagus nerve cells form connections with the digestive system and send messages from the brain in order to control movement of food along the gut. In addition, the bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which not only affects how much food is eaten, but inflammation and mood as well.

As a result, stimulating the vagus nerve can improve digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. On the other hand, damage to the vagus nerve can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea and slow down the emptying of the stomach.

 

Can the Vagus Nerve be Stimulated?

As a medical treatment, the vagus nerve can be stimulated to treat a number of diseases including medication-resistant epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To stimulate the vagus nerve, an electrode is implanted along the right side of the vagus nerve, thus providing regular activation of the vagus nerve.

Unless you are a yoga master, you cannot directly stimulate the vagus nerve, but you can do so indirectly to relieve anxiety and depression. Do it yourself in 4 natural ways:

 

Breath Slowly and Deeply

Most of us don’t breathe well. We either breathe too fast; about 10 to 14 breaths per minute, or we breathe too superficially; from the chest instead of the diaphragm. Thus, we short-change ourselves from the life-giving force of the vagus nerve.

By breathing deeper and more slowly, we are able to stimulate the vagus nerve, and thus reduce anxiety. So, how exactly can you practice abdominal breathing? It’s actually quite simple: When you are breathing, think about slowly filling your abdomen up like a balloon. This will make you naturally inhale slowly. Then, slowly exhale.

How often you practice slow abdominal breathing depends on you. You can make a daily routine of it by fitting it into a daily meditation or yoga practice. On the other hand, you can also just practice it whenever you feel on edge. Just 3 cycles of slow abdominal breathing can work wonders for activating your vagus nerve!

 

Eat Healthy

Because your gut and your brain are intimately connected via the gut-brain axis, whatever affects your gut also affects your brain and its connections such as the vagus nerve.

So, by taking good care of your gut, you’re also taking care of your vagus nerve. One way you can take care of your gut is by practicing intermittent fasting. Much like you need to give your body a rest in order to recharge, intermittent fasting gives your gut a break from digestion, so it can recharge. In fact, research shows that intermittent fasting increases your heart rate variability, which is a measure of the activity of your vagus nerve.

An easy way to begin intermittent fasting is to stop eating, snacking or drinking alcohol after 7 p.m., and not resume eating or snacking until 7 a.m. the next day.

 

Stretch and Exercise daily

Participating in daily physical activity has tons of benefits, one of which is stimulating your vagus nerve. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system decreases your stress and anxiety levels, your anger, and even inflammation.

However, there is one caveat when it comes to physical activity; it should be done regularly and include moderate cardio and strength routines, which provide a sufficient increase of the vagal tone without overexerting yourself. This is because when you exercise too intensely, your vagus nerve activity actually diminishes.

Yoga is an ideal type of practice since stretching in certain yoga poses has a proven beneficial effect on heart rate and blood pressure, especially stretching the neck in the cobra pose.

 

Be Aware and Empathetic

In today’s technology driven world, we can feel isolated despite social media. Research has demonstrated that when you feel socially isolated, your vagus nerve function decreases.

But the good news is that there is a remedy for this; face-to-face interactions. The same study found that when those who felt socially isolated were engaged in fact-to-face interactions with others such as family and friends, the vagus tone increased.

Not able to have face-to-face interactions right now? Not to worry! By practicing mindful framing, a mindfulness practice that transforms your anxiety into vital energy through visualization, you will increase self-awareness and become more empathetic towards people in your family, at work and other acquaintances.

Or you can practice loving-kindness mindfulness, projecting warm feelings of love, empathy, and forgiveness toward others in four stages; first with friends and loved ones, then strangers who are suffering around the world, then your enemies and those you hold grudges against, and finally, yourself.

 

By naturally stimulating your vagus nerve, you will have at your disposal a powerful tool to relax and rebound from anxious thoughts and life’s stresses. Discover how your mind can control your body by sending the right signals to your heart, your lungs and your gut, while creating an aura of peace and relaxation around you.