Best Friend Handbook: How to Reduce Chronic (Holiday) Stress!

Best Friend Handbook: How to Reduce Chronic (Holiday) Stress!

My friend Katherine Stuart writes a wonderful blog,”Best Friend Handbook,” everything from fashion and beauty tips to nutrition and recipes – including recipes for success in life – which she feels are ramped up by practicing gratitude every single day.

“I love the holidays, yet is there anything more stressful than the last two weeks of December? Time seems to disappear right when there is a ton to get done. I also always feel the need to knock off the things on my to-do list that have literally been there for years. WTF is that compulsion about? Add in the continuing fun of Covid, the climate crisis and people on the roads generally acting like the worst version of themselves, and it’s easy to understand why so many of us may be losing our cool. Frankly, dealing with stress has been a longtime issue for me. As a seriously horrible meditator, I am constantly in search of other modalities to ‘keep calm and carry on’ as the Brits like to say. Figuring out ways to reduce chronic stress can help improve your health, your mood and your digestion — always a plus at this time of year with so many yummy things to eat. It all comes down to toning your vagus nerve.

Go here for more of Katherine’s pearls.

What is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve is the cranial nerve that starts at the base of your brain, connecting your throat, ears and facial muscles before scooting down both sides of your neck to your:


In short, it touches basically every organ in your body. The term “gut instinct” literally comes from the fact that the vagus nerve is the telephone line between your brain and your digestive system. This is why stress can take such a toll on your stomach. More importantly, the vagus nerve is what allows your nervous system to toggle between sympathetic mode (fight or flight) and parasympathetic mode (rest, digest and heal). Chronic stress is so debilitating because it causes the vagus nerve to get stuck in the “fight or flight” position which can inhibit your body’s ability to heal. So, keeping this puppy healthy is one of the best things that you can do for yourself.

Benefits of Toning the Vagus Nerve

One of the reasons modalities like yoga and meditation are so good for us is that they incorporate the kind of breathing in which the exhale is longer than the inhale. This stimulates sensory receptors in your lungs which connect to your vagus nerve, pushing that toggle switch into parasympathetic mode, and slowing down your heart rate. As with any kind of exercise program, the more you do it, the easier it is for your brain to reach for this tool in times of stress.

The benefits of toning the vagus nerve are astounding. It ramps up your body’s resiliency by making it easier to switch between states of stress and calm. This, in turn, can have a profoundly positive affect on your physical and mental well being. On the physical front, being able to calm the F down helps reduce your risk of developing:

Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Heart disease
GI disorders such as IBS

On the mental front, a regular practice of toning your vagus nerve helps to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. While this is important all the time, it is especially nice during the holidays when no one likes being on the giving or receiving end of “snappy.”

Fog Horn Breathing…

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