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What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vagus, and it’s gonna be there till you deal with it, Baby.

They didn’t need context because we all knew what they meant, those cheeky ads for Las Vegas.

The implication of “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” was clear — you can act out your wildest fantasies in Las Vegas because that’s what Las Vegas exists for. To host your wilding ass and keep your secrets.

It was a stunningly successful marketing campaign, but like so many marketing campaigns, it was a lie.

As Jeffrey Epstein and company discovered, there’s no place on earth where one’s misdeeds “don’t count” in the long run, and that truth has both pros and cons.

It’s kind of like that saying, the body keeps the score. You can lock it away, you can pretend it didn’t happen, but the memory remains in your body, ready to flare up and out you for all your “sins” real and imagined, those committed both by and against you.

Las Vegas is to the Vagus Nerve as…

And that brings us to (in Rat Pack parlance) the free, fine, wild, knocked out, coo coo, groovy vagus nerve — the great scorekeeper in our bodies. Believe me, Honey — if it’s broke, you ain’t oke.

The vagus nerve (and yes, it’s pronounced just like “Las Vegas”) is the longest nerve in the body, and ancient doctors couldn’t figure out what it was for. It seemed to just roam all over the body, touching everything. Much like a vagrant, they thought, and named it as such.

Were the vagus nerve to be a lady, well, she’d be a bit of a tramp, gallivanting all over the body as she does.

Two thousand years later, we know more about what the vagus nerve is, and how taking proper care to keep it regulated can be life-changing — if not life-saving.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

For our purposes here, let’s think of the nervous system as two branches. There’s the sympathetic branch, which sounds very nice and friendly but is really the branch that’s responsible for keeping us alive in emergencies. It’s the “fight or flight” branch, and it’s crucial to survival, but it’s the home of stress and anxiety. Traumatic like an emergency room. Not a comfy place to dwell.

On the other hand, we have the parasympathetic branch, which is really the place to be. That’s where the vagus nerve is, and it’s where we “rest & digest.” It’s where we’re meant to live when we’re not actively engaged in mortal combat.

Original image by author

The problem comes when the two get out of whack, or “dysregulated,” which for some of us becomes sort of a standard state of being. Considering that we have the same brain & nervous system as our distant cavepeople ancestors, getting out of whack is easily done — the world we’ve designed and now reside in simply doesn’t match the one that humans succeeded in for tens of thousands of years. This modern life is extremely new, in the scale of time. It’s freaking a lot of us out. A lot.

While our brains and nervous systems are tuned to detect danger (literal, life-threatening danger) and either evade or battle the impending predator, for most of us, that’s not literal “reality” anymore. But our poor nervous systems didn’t get the memo.

In trying to protect us, our nervous systems may go into fight or flight when someone, say, bumps into us in a grocery store. Or when our boss calls unexpectedly.

Then an “irrational” reaction may occur, seemingly beyond our control. We’re rattled. We may realize that our reaction is out of scale with what occurred, but that doesn’t matter. We may rage or cry or internalize, or all three, depending on our pre-existing mental/emotional state.

And then comes the guilt and self-hatred. The shame.

And then we endeavor to self-soothe in some way that’s likely self-destructive (self-care can easily veer into the self-destructive when we’re dysregulated).

Rinse and repeat.

King of the Road

The role of our freewheelin’ vagus nerve in all this is vital.

Remember those ancient doctors, noticing that it seems to wander around, touching everything?

Well, that’s where the “scorekeeping” for which the body is famous comes in. When the vagus nerve gets dysregulated, everything it touches starts to go on the fritz. And it touches everything.

Too slow, and we fall into “dorsal vagal” which can be thought of as “cold & constipated,” or too fast and we’re into “sympathetic” which, despite its name is not friendly but rather hot & agitated, if we were to assign it qualities. Quick to anger. You know the type.

The goal, as is so often the case, is balance, or “ventral vagal.” That’s optimized living, right there, healthy, comfortable, and ready-to-face life with a calm smile.

Original image by the author

It’s Witchcraft

Here are my go-to tips that I recommend for anyone who thinks they might need help with self-regulation (and don’t we all?).

If you’re dysregulated in the moment and need to get regulated, try…

Humming. Yep, just humming a tune. The vibrations in your throat help the vagus nerve get regulated.

⭐ Get out of your head and into your body. Trust me. Look to somatic exercises like:

  • Breathing exercises. Your breath is the gateway between your inner and outer worlds.

  • Tapping. Here’s a 1-minute video I created to give an overview.

  • Shaking. And another little video I share with clients!

Like everything else worth doing, getting regulated isn’t a one-time deal. In my opinion, the most helpful thing you can do for yourself (like, possibly, the most helpful thing in the universe) is to get regulated on the regular if you want to avoid those dysregulated moments as much as possible.

High Hopes

Learning this stuff has helped me in ways I probably don’t fully comprehend and maybe never will. Understanding more about myself and why it’s been so difficult to be comfortable in my own skin has enabled me to really love myself deeply, and that’s brought me profound happiness.

That’s why I’m on a mission to share all the things I’ve learned during my own recovery with any and everyone who may find it helpful on their own path. Is that you, Dear Reader?

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