Anxiety – It’s all in the head. Or is it?

If you have anxiety then you will probably have already been offered lots of advice.

“It’s all in your head” may be something you’ve heard.

The brain can’t tell the difference between imagined things and real memories, so it’s worrying about things it’s made up. And that means you’re worrying about a load of things that in all likelihood won’t happen anyway. Well yes, but what’s going on up there is only part of the story.

Anxiety is as much physiological and it is psychological

Most of us know anxiety has physical effects, it can affect our appetite, make us feel sick, give us unwanted physical sensations and so on.

So tackling anxiety both ways - physically as well as mentally makes sense.

Thanks to an important nerve called the vagus nerve that connects our brains with most of the major organs in our bodies this is possible.

Stimulating the vagus nerve (sounds painful but don’t worry it’s not), by doing really simple physical things, sends signals to our brains that “all is well” and our minds then use that information in a positive way.

And as we practice these physical things, that message is reinforced and so our minds and bodies start to move from that anxious state to a calmer state.

We move away from the infamous fight/flight state which you may be familiar with towards a calmer  state of being.

And by simple, I do mean simple

So what are these things we can do to stimulate the vagus nerve.

Chewing gum is one – why? Because chewing gum produces saliva and saliva is a physical sign that we are about to eat. Bodies that are in fight/flight mode aren’t about to eat -they are about to either fight or run away. No time or need for food.

Another is taking deep breaths – ensuring the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. Again, if we are about to run or fight we won’t be taking the time to breathe slowly and deeply. Breathing this way signals “all is well”.

There's also Dropping your jaw. I don’t mean opening your jaw like someone who is reacting in a cartoon like way to something incredulous they’ve just heard! Just a slight relaxing of the jaw – like when you go to the dentist and they get you to relax your jaw, so they can examine your back bottom teeth. If you think about it, a slightly dropped jaw is the opposite of a tense jaw when we’re anxious. Another positive signal on it’s way up the vagus nerve.

Do these simple things regularly

If your mind and body has been in a state of anxiety for a long time, it can take a while for your internal systems to re-balance.

Find the ones that work for you. For example I can’t stand chewing gum, so that one doesn’t work for me - and I don’t want to get into the habit of sucking sweets all day instead.

Regular use of these simple things can really improve your wellbeing.