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Your Faith & The Nervous System by Fiona Van Graan

Have you often been told: ‘Just believe and trust!’, or ‘Just keep telling yourself you’re able/brave/capable/whatever?’. It sounds so simple! But have you struggled to apply that great advice, ending up feeling helpless and angry with yourself? If so, you're in the same boat as me and many of the people I coach.

I was a Psychologist, now I’ve been a corporate coach for over ten years, but I’ve often felt like a hypocrite - struggling to get my mind to do the believing and trusting that others seemed to do with relative ease.

I knew God’s promises, but struggled to believe them, battling anxiety and insomnia. Recently, in desperation, I said, “God, HELP! What am I missing?!”. The next morning, I woke with a Bible verse going round and round in my head, the way song lines sometimes do. It must have repeated about thirty times before I even noticed it. It was the verse that begins, ‘The Word of God is living and active’ (Hebrews 4:12). When I finally noticed it, I suddenly had a lightbulb moment. I thought, “Wait, if the Bible is living and active, I'm going to read it until something changes”.

I happened to open to Psalm 62 in The Passion Translation (I love that version!) and noticed this: ‘I am standing in absolute stillness, silent before the one I love, waiting as long as it takes for him to rescue me. Only God is my Savior, and he will not fail me’. I thought, “Yes! That’s my verse!”. I kept repeating it and read the Bible as much as possible every day. I assumed I’d asked a spiritual question, so I’d get a spiritual answer.

But instead, God took over my YouTube feed. Videos started appearing that had nothing to do with what I’d looked up before, all about the human nervous system – definitely not what I expected! I learned that our bodies do far more than just cart our brains around.

Long term stress, or a one-off traumatic experience, can ‘disregulate’ our nervous system, so that then, even when we’re safe, our body keeps telling our brain something is wrong. Our brain then tries hard to help us by going into overdrive, making up stories to try to explain what feels wrong and how to fix it. Then, when we should be able to relax and go to sleep, we can’t switch off – we’re still wired and worrying and on high alert. And when we try to apply great advice like ‘just ‘trust and believe God’, we struggle.

I learned that our vagus nerve controls the nervous system and the communication between our body and mind. So, stimulating the vagus nerve starts to calm the body, which sends the message to our brain that we’re safe, making it much easier for us to think clearly and positively. Our breath is another way to calm our nervous system – by deep, slow breathing, we signal to the body and therefore the brain that we’re safe, and that allows our brain to function calmly, rather than in freak-out mode.

So, let’s talk about your nervous system. How easily do you switch off at night? How comfortable are you with thinking positively? How able are you to bounce back after a stressful deadline or tough conversation? If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, here’s a suggestion: Experiment with ignoring your anxious thoughts for a while. Instead, focus on speaking peace to your body in the language it understands: vagus nerve stimulation and deep, slow breathing. Then see what impact this has on your mind.

You can find lots of breathing and vagus nerve exercises on YouTube, for example:, Oh and I want to encourage you (and me!) to keep reading the Bible. God has a limitless ability to change our lives for the better through his living, active word.

Love and blessings,



Fiona provides Performance and Life Coaching to Corporate Executives and private individuals who want to thrive in all they do.

She delights in giving people scope to gain perspective, purpose and momentum, and she loves inviting God into the conversation.

As well as coaching, she has been a Business Psychologist and a leadership trainer for middle to senior managers in both Australia and the UK, and she ran the leadership component of a Masters in Sustainable Development for eight years.

She does CrossFit, paints portraits and loves cooking without recipes.

Her first book, ‘The Way Back’, about her own experience of seeking joy, peace and freedom, is for those who find themselves feeling helpless and self-condemning when people say to ‘just change your thoughts’ or ‘just believe’, yet can’t explain how.

It will be available by Christmas 2022. Signed copies can be pre-ordered here:


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