How to Reset Your (Mental) Surge Protector

Most of us know about the “fight or flight” response, triggered by our adrenal glands in stressful situations.

For many of us, these glands have been in overdrive for months. Now—with Covid surging and the election around the corner—burnout is looking increasingly likely.

So what can we do to calm down? (That doesn’t include alcohol or Netflix?) How can we reset our mental surge protectors?

Why, activate our vagus nerves of course!

“Our what’s?” you ask.

So, as mentioned, our adrenals control our fight or flight response. Our vagus nerve handles “rest and digest.”

“OK…” you may be thinking, “Where, exactly, is it?”

Well, the vagus nerve is actually a bundle of nerves starting at the top of the spinal cord. From there it wanders (“Vagus” is Latin for “wander”: hence, “vagrant,” “vagabond” and “vague”…) around the body touching the heart, lungs, liver, and digestive organs, among other things.

“Enough with the Latin lesson,” you’re likely thinking. “We get it. It seems to touch a lot. So, how can we activate it?”

Here are 3 ways:

First, breathe—but from your belly, not your clavicle. Don’t know where you’re breathing from? Now is the time to find out. Put your hand on your abdomen and check in. Does your hand move when you’re breathing? If not, keep trying. Need a fast and easy way to relocate the source of your breath? Lie on the floor and put something heavy on your abdomen. Try to make it go up and down with each inhale and exhale.

Second, hum. Yes, it’s true. Singing, humming, and chanting all activate the vagus nerve because it also wraps around your voice box. “Is this why I feel better when I sing along to the radio?” you might be thinking. You betcha. Belt one out. In the car, in the shower… Knock yourself out.

Third, buzz like a bee. If you were wondering what’s going on in the picture above, I’m buzzing like a bee. How can you do it? By placing your hands as shown, above: with your thumb pressing gently on the tragus of your ear, your index fingers gently on the eyes. Now, inhale through your nose then press gently against the nostrils with your ring fingers while you exhale and make a humming sound like a buzzing bee. Try this ten times and see how you feel.

Do these things seem too easy to be effective? Or, perhaps, even silly?

If they do, I get it.

So why should you try them?

Well, they’re all right there—literally, at the tips of your fingers. So why not discover if you—and you alone—can reset your mental surge protector?


Need additional resources on dealing with uncertainty? Take a look at “Sometimes There’s No Map—and That’s OK”