Sunday, 6 March 2022

Vagus Nerve Healing

I always look out for synchronicity and serendipitous occurrences since my surgery, as I have had some really helpful and powerful messages when I have been paying attention.

Several months ago on my brain tumour group someone posted about having vagus nerve healing which although interesting, I partly ignored as I couldn't afford to look for treatments. Then I saw article after article pop up on the vagus nerve, and even in regard to anxiety. So I searched it, finding that you could do healing exercises. The one I liked best was by Sukie Baxter - Whole Body Revolution - who has a You Tube Channel  as just listening to her voice was soothing. But doing the simple exercise (here) of literally looking out the sides of my eyes for a minute each side made me feel insanely dizzy after, and the wobbly feeling didn't just for a few minutes, but for the rest of the day.

Yet I felt that as something so simple could have such a dramatic effect, it must be something my body needed. After a few conversations on you tube with Sukie I tried it again, but not looking as far to the side, nor holding it for as long. Again I found it hard to look round to the second side, and realised it didn't matter which side did first, the first side was OK but the second I could feel myself and my vision going in circles trying to focus. So again I had to keep looking a bit further forwards (I reduced it to just over 45° each way), only held it for 15- 20 seconds and also only did the exercise at night so I could go to sleep afterwards without having to walk or feel wobbly.

Over a few weeks I gradually increased it so that I could get to around 70°, although the first side was always better by about 10° than the second side! Plus I also increased the time to 30, then 40 seconds.

Then at some point on doing another of the vagus nerve exercises for anxiety I realised it had calmed me, and so decided to buy the book she recommended to see what else it could help with. Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve

On receiving this book I was totally fascinated with the topic, almost every word I could relate to, from the common problems related to cranial nerve dysfunction and the states of the automatic nervous system almost summing up my health, to how the Polyvagal Theory could mean that my body, not my faulty thoughts, was causing many of my emotional struggles.

I sat and cried when it explained that I could be 'stuck' in fight or flight mode and this could be the cause of my now almost constant anxiety, or blank depression. I know that when I still had my tumour, I was experiencing fight or flight fear responses many many times a day when my brain wasn't able to cope with moving around and it throwing me off balance. The sick to your stomach panic hitting me each time. I had explained this to my neurosurgeon, GP, the neurophysiologist, and anyone who has ever supported me since my surgery... No one ever said this trauma might have been 'trapped' in my body. 

Despite this urge to read more, I was only able to read a chapter at the most each day, before I either couldn't take it in and absorb the info (and I know I needed to) or my eyes would physically struggle to see anymore without them blurring. And this was with my reading glasses, or my varifocals on. (or after taking them off, as sometimes this is actually better?!)

It was also informative that my wasted neck muscle could be part of my health issues as people with a dysfunction in the neck muscles are often not 'socially engaged'. (What you should be if the vagus nerve is functioning well)

Anyway, I was keeping up the basic exercise and gradually I realised I was having a few days at a time of feeling less anxious. I also had the urge to 'help myself' a bit more rather than feeling 'empty and blank' and brought some Palo Santo essential oil (which I absolutely love the smell of, and realised it is also for anxiety, depression, and stress - which might have been why it was calling me!) and booked an appointment with the chiropractor. (who I had not seen for months due to lockdown)

At this chiropractic appointment, she did a fair bit of work on my head and neck and I could feel how badly my body had been twisted to one side again, as well as wanting to cry when she gently manipulated my head and neck - I told her 'I still feel trauma is trapped here'. Plus she told me it was my trapezious muscle in my neck that was wasted. (which then explained a lot to me) 

The next morning, I woke to the top of my head feeling so sore, not only the usual sore spot but a bigger area in the middle of my numb patch. It is an odd feeling to describe, but a mix of someone pulling your hair out and sunburn. It felt like the nerves were slowly returning and (as I have found) the pain was one of the first signs of change.

Despite this I had the urge to do things and spent a few days in the garden, planting seeds, getting pots moved and then tidying up various bits in the house.

And... After a few days I suddenly realised I had not felt more than mildly anxious, was much less depressed and my health felt generally better!

Roll on a few months and another couple of chiropractic appointments and it felt like nothing more had changed. I was expecting things to continue as I was still doing the Vagus Nerve Exercises, but the anxiety and blank depression had not reduced further. 

Then, as coincidence has it, in September 2021 my husband had a customer here that happened to be, amongst other holistic healing modalities, a massage therapist. So I decided to try if this would help my neck.

After my second appointment, I had a rather interesting (and what also seemed rather depressing) observation on the fight or flight reflex .... He had released one of my neck muscles and then asked me something about after my surgery (I think on purpose) and as I spoke about it he said he could feel my muscle instantly tense right back up and go back to the same level of tension it was before he started.😲

So even thinking about the trauma of hospital and my surgery, despite not even talking about one of the times that was really tough or emotional, my body still physically reacted. I mean I know my fight or flight has never really gone down, but for it to be this clear was rather depressing, and it felt almost pointless me getting getting any treatment such as a massage to help if it just instantly goes back.
But a couple of times during the treatment I had just cried for what seemed like no apparent reason. I hadn't been thinking of anything that would make me cry, yet tears were just running down my face.  So I accepted these tears needed to be released and just sat there allowing them.
However to my surprise, after a couple of weeks and not really doing anything else too different to what I had been for a while, I suddenly realised my stress and anxiety levels had reduced considerably!  

Now, me being me, with the memory of a fish at times, after a few weeks I forgot to keep up the Vagus Nerve Exercises, I simply didn't remember to do them more than occasionally before I went to sleep.... but the anxiety, although not gone, had very much reduced. 

 As ever, it's a work in progress. Brain injuries and trauma take their time to improve! 😁


Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve: Self-Help Exercises for Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, and Autism
Stanley Rosenberg

"Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve is a practical guide to understanding the cranial nerves as the key to our psychological and physical wellbeing. Drawing from the polyvagal theory of Stephen Porges--one of the biggest new developments in human neurobiology--Rosenberg explains in easy-to-understand terms how the vagus nerve, in particular, has a strong role in determining our psychological and emotional state, especially when it comes to how we relate and react to other people. By understanding the physiology of the autonomic nervous system and practicing simple exercises to restore proper vagal functioning, we can learn how to improve our emotional state within minutes. Those suffering from anxiety, depression, panic, and trauma will find much that is useful here, as well as those with physical ailments such as chronic pain and digestive problems. Additionally, because the vagus nerve is a key regulator of social interaction, therapy for proper vagal functioning has great potential for helping those with autism spectrum disorders."

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