Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Vagal - Vocal Connection Part 2... by Functional Medicine Practitioner Jackie Warner

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NOTE: This is part 2 of a series... Find Vagus-Vocal Connection part 1 at this link.
Do you know the difference between a little adreneline rush before you step on stage and a state of chronic anxiety and stress? You can bet your voice does. And so does Jackie Warner!
Part 2 of the Vagal-Vocal Connection is a post generously written for All Things Vocal by Jackie Warner, who is a certified practitioner of the Institute for Functional Medicine. She founded the Thrive Health & Wellness Clinic in Nolensville, Tennessee. I became aware of her through the health building experiences Leah Grams Johnson (who wrote our Part 1) had at her clinic. My thanks to Leah and to Jackie Warner for sharing this in-depth look at a subject important to all voices: how to deal with stress - and of course our Vagus nerve plays an important part!  
Please note:
The information provided on this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new routine of diet, exercise or supplementation or medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem.
Here now, is Jackie’s post:

Stress and its impact on your body!

Let’s start off with the nervous system in our body. The autonomic nervous system (ANS)  is divided into two subsystems: the sympathetic nervous system (aka-fight or flight) and the PNS, parasympathetic nervous system (aka-the brakes).  The role of the ANS is to constantly balance the functions of the organ systems according to both internal and external stimuli. It does this through coordination of various activities such as hormone secretion, respiration, digestion and excretion and circulation. The ANS is always ‘on’; we are unaware of the tasks it is performing every minute of the day. However, when things become unbalanced, we need to become more aware of what is happening. Both of these systems are divided by the all and powerful Vagus nerve. The goal is to balance both sides and improve the Vagal tone. If that all sounds mumbo jumbo to you, don’t worry, I’ll explain:

Let’s go back…way back to our ancestral times: The lion sees us making fire, we turn and catch a glimpse of this impending threat; Within split seconds of perceiving a threat, this primitive part of your brain sounds the alarm, sending a chemical distress signal to the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) Axis – your Hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, a tiny gland in the front center of your brain, serves as a rapid relay station. The Stress Response signals, once registered, then get passed onto the pituitary gland, another major hormonal regulatory center quite close by in your brain, and from there, all the way down to your adrenal glands, where your body translates these signals into action, providing the fuel you need to escape or fight the danger (thus this is called the fight or flight response).

The adrenal glands initially respond by pumping out a chemical called adrenaline. Under adrenaline’s influence, your heart rate quickens and your breathing changes to get more oxygen to the reaction centers in your brain and to your muscles, your pupils dilate to take in more peripheral vision and help you see, and blood is shunted away from your colon, gut and extremities to pump more blood to your brain and heart so you can run faster, think clearer and see farther. Your mind becomes hypervigilant (also called hyperarousal) – you become keenly aware of and sensitive to every possible threat or hint of danger in your environment. In the short run, some people actually love the feel of adrenaline. It gives us a rush. Some even get addicted to it. Think rollercoasters, horror movies, and bungee jumping. But when this rush becomes chronic, it’s not fun anymore.

When Stress Becomes Distress

Your Stress Response is only meant to be activated in times of danger, and only supposed to last for a few minutes, long enough to get us out of harm’s way and let your brain do the work of cataloging the danger so you recognize it even faster next time.
So, we are not actually running away from the lion, nor do we need to constantly lift the car off our child. We are, however, living in a world full of stressors. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot differentiate our body sitting at a computer feeling stressed vs running away from a threat – our stress response rarely ever “turns off” unless we practice doing it intentionally..
The dark side of chronic hypervigilance is anxiety! Your brain and body get stuck in survival mode and you end up with:
  • Chronic anxiety
  • Overwhelming feeling of fatigue
  • Sleep Problems
  • Brain Fog
Over time you can also end up with a host of other problems including exhaustion, depression, cognitive problems, sugar cravings, weight gain, or Hashimoto’s, and an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and dementia.

Does this sound like you?
If you’re struggling with chronic anxiety, or other symptoms of Adrenal Overdrive or Adrenal Depletion, your stress response or sympathetic system might be the cause. Being “ON” all the time is exhausting and so many of us are experiencing burnout and serious health symptoms as a result. You remain in overdrive, “all systems go.” Your body tries to adapt, until it can’t anymore. You end up feeling like you just want to scream or hibernate in the bed. It’s a problem millions of people are facing, and unfortunately a common prescription is to add medication that can only mask the underlying cause.

Here are the common symptoms of living in a sympathetic or imbalanced cortisol pattern:
  • Afternoon fatigue, caffeine, or sugar cravings, usually around 3 to 4 pm
  • Allergies, food reactions, hives
  • Anxiety, irritability, or depression
  • Being in constant overdrive or overly driven, taking on too much, finding yourself unable to stop and relax
  • Cravings for sugary, salty or fatty foods, or carbs (starches, baked goods)
  • Difficulty sticking with a diet or exercise plan, trouble with “willpower”
  • Difficulty with focus or memory (“brain fog”)
  • Digestive problems
  • Eczema or hives
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed
  • Hashimoto’s or autoimmune disorders show up
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Insulin resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, or Diabetes
  • Low sex drive
  • Extra belly fat
  • Osteopenia or osteoporosis
  • PCOS, endometriosis, and infertility
  • Perfectionism, feeling that you’re never doing enough, or never doing things well enough
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up still tired
Ughhhhh, what to do?? There is a way out: Reset Your Stress Response to Heal Anxiety
The good news is that our bodies do have other ways of responding to stress triggers than with anxiety – ones that allow us to move out of a state of alarm, into feeling calm and safe. Here are my top 5 top tips:

STEP #1 Recognize the Feeling

The first step to overcoming anxiety is to recognize it for what it is – a set of feelings that are the result of a series of biological responses to a perceived threat. Pay attention to what happens when you become anxious. Find your stress response (For me, it’s the tension in my jaw-I tend to clench my teeth); yours may be shoulder/neck pain/strain-everyone is different. Notice your heart rate increases, your breathing accelerates, you may start to sweat, and your mouth might get dry. You may feel that you are going to pass out. Or you may have an urge to run, flee. You may have difficulty concentrating or experience memory lapses. You may experience nausea, chest pressure or pain. At bed time you may be unable to fall asleep. You may feel a sense of impending doom – even that you are going to die. But you are not. These are the signs of anxiety. It is your body’s flight-or-fight response kicking in.

STEP #2: Breathe…………just breathe…………….

I want to introduce you to my good friend the Vagus Nerve. I joke with patients that the Vagus nerve is the new “black”. It is the master of calm. Here’s why: When you stimulate your vagus nerve, it releases an array of anti-stress enzymes and hormones such as acetylcholine, prolactin, vasopressin, and oxytocin. Vagus nerve stimulation is associated with benefits such as improved memory, immune function, sleep, and higher levels of growth hormone. It also may help tame inflammation, allergic responses, and tension headaches.

Unless you’re a yoga master, you cannot directly and consciously stimulate your vagus nerve. But you can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve to relieve anxiety and depression.
“Deep breathing is a great example of that,” says Dr. Golubic. We have a certain space where we can control breathing. We can extend the inhalation and the exhalation. So by those practices we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system.”

Other ways to stimulate your vagus nerve include cold-water facial immersion after exercise and submerging the tongue or by gargling excessively, even singing loudly. I don’t know about you, but I prefer deep breathing, well and the singing - my family may not though. [Judy interrupts... I can help you with that!] In times of crisis, whatever works is the answer!

I teach my patients the 5/5/5 paced breathing technique. We start with an abdominal inhalation in for a count of 5; hold for a count of 5 while pushing your shoulders back, relaxing your arms/hands and then fully exhaling, through pursed lips for a count of 5. To get into a vagus-nerve stimulation mode, it’s best to reduce the number of breaths from a typical 10-14 per minute to 5-7 per minute. Check out the Heart Math emWave, an affordable and effective biofeedback device that you can easily use at home. We also have sessions available at Thrive Health and Wellness.

STEP #3 Create Safe Space for Your Brain

Getting and staying out of 'SOS' is a lifestyle commitment that feels good and can transform your health, life, and even relationships and business success. I recommend creating a nightly “practice” or routine that helps you consciously downshift out of stress; this helps guarantee that your body has a chance to get out of flight or flight each day, letting your nervous system reset from survival mode to safe space. Here’s a suggested practice:
  • Take a hot bath or shower 30 minutes before bed; I prefer using an Epsom salt bath with 10-15 drops of a good quality Lavender essential oil.
  • After your bath or shower, grab a notebook and pen, and jot down one thing you’re proud of from your day, one thing you’re grateful for, and one thing you’re looking forward to the next day.
  • Hop into bed and click on the Headspace app (free if you have an Andr­oid or Iphone). Then do a series of 5-7 paced breaths while you listen to a guided meditation. I love this app. For ‘retraining the brain’. It works!

STEP #4 Nourish your body from the inside/out

Herbs and nutritional supplements are a beautiful complement to support you in healing the impact of the stress of modern living, and even the impact of past trauma, on your Survival Response System. They can help you heal from anxiety and allow you to live freely again. First, try to identify your triggers; this can be done with journaling and through an elimination diet plan. Here is a list of foods that nourish your adrenals and foods that harm:

The 11 best foods for Adrenal Fatigue are:
  • Organ meats (e.g. liver)
  • Fish
  • Organic meats (e.g. beef, chicken) wild better, no GMO or grain fed ideal.
  • Eggs (if not sensitive)
  • Low sugar fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans (If no SIBO or yeast issues)
  • Avocado, Nuts and seeds
The 7 worst foods for Adrenal Fatigue are:
  • High sugar fruits
  • Sugary snacks
  • Fast food
  • Processed foods
  • Refined grains (e.g. white bread)
  • Dried fruits
  • Coffee
Support your adrenal glands by adding adaptogenic herbs that work as adrenal fatigue supplements. Adaptogen herbs include ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, licorice root and ginseng. They’re titled adaptogens because they help your body adapt and deal with stress, and these have big benefits.
  • The No. 1 adaptogen specifically for your adrenals is called ashwagandha. Ashwagandha benefits adrenals because it lowers cortisol levels and maintains healthy adrenal function.  The same is true of the other adaptogen herbs, including ashwagandha, holy basil and licorice root (caution with high blood pressure here), which are the most beneficial for supporting your adrenal glands.
  • Also, getting B (methylated) vitamins is very important for your adrenal glands, especially Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency has been linked to adrenal cortex stress, so supplementing with vitamin B12 can be a beneficial addition to your adrenal fatigue diet.
  • Last but not least, magnesium as well as vitamin D can also support your adrenals, along with selenium. Magnesium plays a vital role in combatting adrenal insufficiency and is an important cofactor for almost every bodily function. I love Magnesium!
  • Selenium benefits adrenals because it’s a mineral that works as an antioxidant that also supports the adrenal glands. That’s why selenium deficiency can lead to adrenal issues.

More about Jackie Warner: 
Jackie Warner, FNP-BC, IFMCP

Jackie Warner is a board-certified nurse practitioner in family practice and functional medicine. With 20 years of extensive nursing experience including trauma, ICU, cardiac and wellness, Jackie experienced the frustrating “revolving door" care model offered by traditional approaches to treatment of disease. After completing a health coaching program through the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine certification, she found her true calling in the field of functional medicine.
Jackie next went on to obtain her certification through the Institute for Functional Medicine, and as of 2018 is one of only three practitioners in the state of Tennessee to have completed this extensive training and examination process. Combining her diagnosis and treatment-based experience in hospital care with a functional medicine approach to identifying and eliminating the underlying causes of disease and dysfunction is Jackie’s passion, and her Thrive Health & Wellness Clinic, located in Nolensville, Tennessee, is its expression.
My thanks once again to Jackie Warner for so generously sharing this information with us! If your near the Nashville area, look into the wellness services she offers at her clinic.
Have you enjoyed this series about the Vagus nerve? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!
And again... here's the link to part 1.

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