Say what? Yes, by stimulating the vagus nerve the body experiences a greater sense of calm. We don’t need to get into a lesson on anatomy and physiology, but it is important to note that the vagus nerve works a little like a brake pedal.
When it is stimulated it dials things down. Including anxious feelings. True story. Why do you think so many Eastern meditation practices including repeating a mantra in a near humming like incantation? It is because the vibrations set up through humming stimulate the vagus nerve which in turn dials down anxiety and leads to greater calm.
In fact, there are many ways to stimulate the vagus nerve in order to get this impact, but diaphragmatic breathing is most common. Learning how to use diaphragmatic breathing is not difficult, and can be mastered quickly.
Don’t expect it to take away all of your nervousness. It won’t. What it will do is take the edge off of it, and the more you practice the more it works.
3. Strategic Brief Delay
When you are aiming to disrupt the OCD cycle (worry/compulsion/relief) a delay in responding is your friend. The longer you wait to respond to worry the stronger you become, and the OCD impulse grows weaker.
It is similar to developing greater will power. Let’s pretend you wanted to lose a few pounds to get ready for summer. Let’s also pretend that it has been difficult to make progress because every time you go into the breakroom at work, you pick up a small snack. People are always bringing cakes and cookies to work, so the temptation is constantly in front of you.
One way to break this habit is to disrupt the immediacy of your response to seeing the tempting treats. You can do this by injecting a delay between the time that you experience the “I want a cookie” urge and the moment you pick up the cookie.
In this instance, you could insert a delay between the urge and the response by making a plan. Something simple. For example, you could write out a list of reasons you wish to lose weight. These might include: better health; fit into some clothing that is a bit too snug right now; look slimmer for an upcoming event; be better able to compete in an upcoming 5K race, and so forth.
Then, when you are at work and go to the break room only to be blindsided by a plate of your favorite cookies, you have a plan. You trot back to your desk, fetch the coveted list from your drawer, read through the list, and then make a decision. “Shall I return to the breakroom, that culinary den of inequity, and indulge my cravings? Or do I stay the course, moving forward toward my health goals?”
Although this whole process just described may only take 60 seconds, the disruption it creates will often be sufficient to derail the habitual snacking cycle. It does two things that are very helpful.
1. It dials down the sense of temptation (by removing you from its source… the cookies in the breakroom)
2. It also enhances motivation by reminding you of the importance of not giving in to the urge to snack.
You can apply this same principle to OCD. Whether your urge is to double-check the locks on your front door, wash your hands, perform a ritual, or something else, add a hurdle to that process.
For example, “I can go back and check the front door again once I’ve gotten a mile away from the house on my way to work.” Or, “I can wash my hands again after I finish writing myself a note about how much I want to be free from this compulsion.”
Many times these small delays create enough emotional distance to make it fairly easy to resist the compulsion. Even in those instances when the urge is acted upon, one’s sense of control begins to grow stronger as a result of having forced yourself to delay responding.