Nerves. Nervousness. Is there a relationship between these conductors of information that travel all through our bodies and the state of being “nervous?” I don’t know if the generation that coined the term “nervous” knew it, but I’m learning that there is a connection.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I am working on this post toward the end of May 2021. Science may have known some things for a long time, but I am only recently discovering a few things about the mind and how it receives information.
One of my therapies to help with my ASD has been neurofeedback. I figure if Tom Brady does it, there must be something to it. He’s not on my favorite NFL team – the Saints – and now that he has moved to the Bucs, I root against him even more often. But there is no discounting his success.
Neurofeedback has to do with building connections in the brain and understanding the brain’s output – waves – like the ones you see in a brain scan or an EEG. Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Theta, and probably other waves are occurring in our brains, and they may or may not be doing the right things at the right times, and in the right places.
I can’t explain all of that science, but one nerve in particular that my neurofeedback therapist and I discussed is the vagus nerve. If you are neurotypical or if you are on the spectrum, you may benefit from learning a little more about this central and highly influential nerve in our bodies.
One theory I have read a little about is the Polyvagal Theory. We all have a vagus nerve – which is responding to inputs in our environment and sending signals to many organs within us. But it’s not just my vagus nerve I need to be aware of. We are all walking around, fellowshipping, working, eating together, commuting on the roads together, hanging out with each other, and our nerves are responding – to our benefit or otherwise. You really are plucking my nerves!
Understanding this concept has helped me in so many ways. First, my body is involved with my mind. I may be feeling a knot in my stomach, or tension in my head, and I need to recognize that this is happening – and I may need to adjust something I’m doing. I don’t want to take my discomfort out on others or embarrass myself by saying or doing something uncouth.
Second, whether I interact with upset people or happy people, their words, their body language, their facial expressions are outputs for them, and inputs for me. I can work on improving how I process those inputs. Reacting slowly and thoughtfully or taking a deep breath can help me stay calm and connected in the interaction. (There are huge benefits to the vagus nerve and therefore the whole mind and body via deep diaphragmatic breathing – don’t trust me, look it up.) If I take the time to realize that I might not have all the information, I can decide to get more information before saying or doing something that makes things worse.
Third, and perhaps the most critical for me, is knowing that all people have a mind and a body that are giving them information all the time. Remembering this can help me to realize that we are all on that mental planet, and I can be more considerate of others, and perhaps more compassionate when required. Hopefully that will pay benefits in return.
One doctor supplied me with a vagal nerve stimulator – basically a TENS unit modified to attach to my ear and my back. I don’t have any “leaps and bounds” data, but I’m sticking with it, because I think the vagus nerve is so critical to my health, and maybe even to my peace and my patience. Peace and patience are fruits of the spirit, but if I’m having trouble receiving them…then I’ll take the help.
Is patience only a spiritual thing? Or is it only a mental decision to control biological impulses? Doesn’t matter to me – I want to grow in both ways enough to use whatever methodology I can to succeed in communication with others and my personal health. I do believe that peace is proper integration of the spiritual, mental, and physical. I’ll try to not jump on your main nerve – now that I know that you have one too. And as far as commuting goes, I might be the one you see on the road patiently waiting behind you or shiftin’ into third to move on out of your way. Happy Polyvagal Motoring!