Positive thoughts and social connections may stimulate the vagus nerve

What are positive thoughts and why are they important?

An average person faces a lot of challenges on an everyday basis. Sometimes, it becomes really difficult to move forward and look past all the obstacles that life often throws in the direction. This is where many people focus their energies on getting an environment that supports their growth and well-being. It has long been stressed that a healthy positive environment reflects greatly on the outcome of individuals. Trying to get out of problematic and depressing situations can very well be manifested if it is approached with a positive mindset. The fact holds true, that these positive thoughts elicit a lot of channels inside the brain that help overcome any hurdle, shaping the person into a more confident person with a strong personality. 

Science has a lot to say about the psychological effects that these positive thoughts have on the mental as well as the physical well-being of a person. 

How does the vagus nerve get stimulated by positive thoughts and social connections? 

It has been seen that positive thoughts and healthy social connections are known to stimulate the vagus nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated during these times, the body enters a state of relaxation and comfort. This state of relaxation is achieved by the activation of the parasympathetic system. The parasympathetic system when activated tones the vagus nerve and stimulates it further to exert its effect on the rest of the body. 

There have been many studies conducted on individuals to see how the activation of the vagus nerve through positive thoughts helped individuals in the long run, both mentally and physically. The first and foremost is the tendency of the vagus nerve to decrease the contractions of the heart, decrease blood pressure, as well as decrease the process of inflammation.

A randomized control trial conducted in 2013, on a group of individuals to ascertain the role of positive attitude and positive social connection in life and its effects on the vagal tone. It was found that the ones who had healthy and positive social connections and a positive attitude towards life had better physical health and led a happier life.

A big debate that has taken place over social connection and the stimulation of the vagus nerve is that most individuals try to use social media to establish the same connection as in a face-to-face meetup. Many studies published observing the statistics of social media, concluded that those who spent hours and hours on such sites and applications felt more isolated as compared to when they met someone in real-time in the real world. These studies also showed that these individuals had better ways to negate stressful situations with anxiety levels. The ‘physical real-time meetup’ is what stimulates the vagal response through which HRV (heart rate variability) improves considerably. 

All of these factors contribute to the generation of emotions that help construct a personality that is head-strong and confident. These attributes are very important to have in order to deal with challenging situations. The stimulation of the vagus nerve also helps to deal with anger, anxiety as well as stress. 

What happens when the vagus nerve gets stimulated?

The way the vagus nerve works is by activating the mood-regulating centres; such as the limbic system along with the suppression of areas that elicit feelings of sadness. This can very well explain the antidepressant action of the nerve. 

It also inhibits the release of inflammatory cytokines and therefore has anti-inflammatory properties, helping deal with the many inflammatory diseases.

Another aspect seen by the stimulation of the vagus nerve through social connectedness is the improvement of the heart rate variability. This is the measurement of the interval between two heartbeats. Therefore, improvement of the HRV is directly associated with better heart health. 

It is directly related to the control of emotions and many other important functions of the body. These functions include better immune response, increasing appetite by increasing the rate of digestion as well as calming down the heart. It is also responsible for establishing a connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal system, helping manage many diseases of the gastrointestinal system. These internal organs are connected by the afferent fibers that leave the vagus nerve. 

There are also many psychiatric disorders such as depression, PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) as well as anxiety that have shown to be well under control through the activation of the vagus nerve. This can also explain that positive thoughts and healthy social connections does not just make one happy about themselves, but also keeps their mind away from depressive thoughts that might weigh them down otherwise. 

A better functioning immune system due to its immunomodulatory functions is also one of the reasons why the stimulation of the vagus nerve is important for the physical well-being of an individual. 

References

  1. Breit S, Kupferberg A, Rogler G, Hasler G. Vagus nerve as a modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2018 Mar 13;9:44.
  2. Kok, B.E., Coffey, K.A., Cohn, M.A., Catalino, L.I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S.B., Brantley, M. and Fredrickson, B.L., 2013. How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological science, 24(7), pp.1123-1132.
  3. Bergland, C. (2017, May 30). Kindness Towards Oneself and Others Tones Your Vagus Nerve. Retrieved August 01, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/kindness-towards-onnectedness-oxytocin-and-your-vagus-nerve
  4. Bergland, C. (2017, May 19). Face-to-Face Connectedness, Oxytocin, and Your Vagus Nerve. Retrieved August 01, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/face-face-connectedness-oxytocin-and-your-vagus-nerve

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