I mentioned awhile back in a previous blog, while attending a yoga retreat in early spring of 2022 in Ripon Quebec, I met a Naturopath and Iridologist – Michel Stornello. This fellow is quite the character and what I remember most from my visit, was what he said to me after his examination. ” Baby you were born in overdrive ! “ How he could tell that, just by looking into my eyes, is fascinating to me. He went on to say that I had a predisposition for heightened anxiety, inflammation and autoimmune dysfunction .
As I reflect on my life, one of the only childhood memories that I can distinctly remember is me, at the age of 3, sitting in my next door neighbours sand box, shovel in hand, waiting for him to wake up from his afternoon nap. I was pissed. We were on a mission to dig to China and he, was holding things up! Even as a child, I never napped. Throughout my life, I have had little patience for those who choose to rest and relax, when there is so much work to be done !
Fast forward approximately 40 years and I had my first encounter with full on panic. I was a working mom, trying to do it all and self care, was truly a foreign concept to me. I ended up having to go on sick leave because I literally couldn’t function. The attacks happened quite frequently and I was consumed with this feeling of sheer terror. I got to a point where I was afraid to leave the house in case I might have another, near brush with death. It was absolutely paralysing. My physician sent me to see a neurologist to rule out any neurological disorder and it was this fellow, who diagnosed me with severe anxiety. Back then, mental health was not a topic of open discussion, as it is today. All I knew was that I needed to get back to work and wanted my life back to how it was, pre panic mode. I started with a pediatric dose of Paxil. It worked! It took off the edge and gradually I reclaimed my life. Being a strong willed woman, who saw all of this as a sign of weakness, I vowed to wean myself off the meds. In 6 months I was no longer taking medication and had plunged back in to my old way of being.
Over the next phase of my life, I episodically dealt with panic but, nothing debilitating. I lived a life of constant stimulation and, surrounded myself with chaos and challenge. Every so often, I longed for moments of quiet. In my mind, rest and relaxation was something you earned, and I reserved it for vacation time only. I would plan family trips, filled with beauty and adventure. It was only during these moments that I would give myself permission, to stop. From the outside, things were looking good. I seemed to have it all ! Three beautiful daughters, a loving husband, a successful career, a beautiful home. Life was awesome 🙂
In spring 2020, my life, as did the lives of everyone else in this world, changed significantly.
Life suddenly seemed like one bad dream. I worked and worked and worked some more. I devoted every waking hour to coming up with solutions. How would we continue to provide services to patients and their families, in this new reality we found ourselves living in ….. a global pandemic.
During this time of my life, I didn’t sleep enough, I drank too much and I ate sporadically. I was in survival mode and, aside from going for the odd bike ride, there was no escape.
On June 12, 2020, I was feeling dreadfully ill and, decided I had to take a sick day. That one day turned into two months. It took me a long time to admit it but, I definitely had Covid. Little did I know that this would become a major life changing event for me, on so many levels.
I literally came to a full halt. I could barely move and spent weeks sitting on my dock, watching the river float by. Strangely enough, I felt grateful. My heart went out to others who were also suffering from this nasty virus and might not be as lucky as I, surrounded by beauty and a loving and supportive family.
There was no cure for Covid but intuitively I knew, I could heal from it. I began exploring things I could do for myself. Living with this virus opened up a whole new world for me. For the next 18 months, I was committed to exploring things I could do for myself, in my quest for wellness. I also decided to share what I was learning in the form of this blog, with the intent of helping others .
The gnawing question that was stuck in my head from early on in my illness was, how come women in their 40’s and 50’s, previously considered to be “healthy” , weren’t getting better ??
I knew we must all have something in common ??
As the months went by, I started to put two and two together.
Prior to the fall of 2021, I had never even heard of the vagus nerve but, guess what ? It’s one heck of a major player in how our body functions day to day .
“The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body and is a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can significantly impact your mental health”Gabriel Marchese March 9, 2022- A Yoga Practice to Activate the Vagus Nerve a-yoga-practice-to-activate-the-vagus-nerve
“Have you ever heard of “fight or flight?” When we experience sudden, high stress, we activate our fight or flight response, getting the body ready to either flee the scene or fight. In our everyday experience of stress, there is no place to run or hide, and the stressful situation is not one that can easily be fought off. “
“During periods of chronic high stress, the body stays in high gear, with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body. This creates wear and tear on the body and mind, and over time can create a multitude of health problems such as chronic pain, anxiety, mood swings, gut inflammation and so many more. ” The vagus nerve: your secret weapon in fighting stress – Allied Services Integrated Health System – Megan Horeis DPT, PT, WCS Allied Services Scranton Luger Rehab Center The-vagus-nerve-your-secret-weapon-in-fighting-s
So basically, I believe for me personally, when I got Covid, I was stuck in the fight of flight mode.
“The health of the autonomic nervous system is key to preventing chronic disease, chronic pain and inflammation, as well as promoting emotional well being. If our vagus nerve is not functioning optimally, this may have far reaching effects on our health.” The Power of the Vagus Nerve – Teeluride Daily Planet By Alison Palmer, Wellness Column Mar 11, 2020
I had years worth of physical and emotional toxins built up in my system. I was stuck! I needed to learn ways to bring about self regulation in my body as opposed to inflammation, which was causing me grief in the form of chronic pain and fatigue – the long lasting effects of Covid.
Here are some of the facts :
“The parasympathetic nervous system (often referred to as “rest and digest”) handles inputs from internal organs, like digestion or your fingernails and hair growing. It causes a decrease in heart rate.”
“The sympathetic nervous system (often called “fight or flight”) reflects responses to things like stress and exercise, and increases your heart rate and blood pressure.”
“When you have high heart rate variability, it means that your body is responsive to both sets of inputs (parasympathetic and sympathetic). This is a sign that your nervous system is balanced, and that your body is very capable of adapting to its environment and performing at its best.”
My new quest is to increase my heart rate variability.
What does that look like for me ?
Self Care 🙂
“Self-care … choices that improve the whole mind-body system. Increasingly the key to self-care seems to be the vagus nerve. The general public awaits a silver-bullet treatment and a future vaccine, but the benefits associated with the vagus nerve are accessible by anyone right now.” Self-Care, The Vagus Nerve, And COVID-19- Deepak Chopra https://www.deepakchopra.com/articles/self-care-the-vagus-nerve-and-covid-19/
According to Alison Palmer, Wellness Column Mar 11, 2020 “What can we do to help activate and promote health and regulation in our vagus nerve? Learning to breathe using our diaphragm, periodic cold exposure such as turning on the cold tap in the shower, humming or chanting, stimulating your gag reflex (touch the top of your soft palate with your toothbrush), yoga and Pilates with a focus on the breath, acupuncture, and practicing mindfulness and meditation all promote healthy activation of the vagus nerve. Laughter and social connectedness, daily exercise, and making smart dietary choices also improve function in the vagus nerve.”
In September 2021, I participated in a research study with Amy Steggles helping-long-haulers-breathe .
This was my intro to the vagus nerve. I learned so much from Amy. She literally taught me how to breath.
I still can’t sing worth a darn but according to Amy , you don’t have to sound good and by the way, anyone can hum !
I continue to go for acupuncture every now and again when I feel like I need a tune up , I start my day off with a cold swim in the river, I enjoy daily yoga with Andrea Robertson http://www.bodyandbalance.ca
This summer, Andrea was kind enough to put together a yoga class that focused on toning the vagus nerve. Fascinating stuff!
( more about this incredible human being later – will feature her in upcoming blog)
Here are suggestions a-yoga-practice-to-activate-the-vagus-nerve
I meditate at least once a day and, am trying hard to live mindfully. I still tend to react in certain situations and am learning to take time to reflect . Wisdom comes with experience 🙂
I am all about healthy food choices. There are even certain foods that help with toning the vagus nerve Vagus-nerve-diet
As you can see, I have tons and tons of info and as usual, could truly go on and on.
I hope that my story can shed some light on how important it is to introduce daily practices that help you easily switch to cruise control.
This discovery has been life changing for me. I have gradually shifted from fight or flight to rest and digest mode. In fact I have become so zen, my family hardly recognize me !
I do believe there’s a happy medium but, more on that another time .
PS Here are some more articles that some of you may find interesting
Heart-rate-variability (HRV), predicts outcomes in COVID-19 PMC8553073
HEART Rate Variability Biofeedback in LOng COVID-19 (HEARTLOC) (HEARTLOC) NCT05228665