2020 was the year of anxiety for many of us. Anxiety can show up in different ways for different people which means that sometimes we don’t realise we’re experiencing it.
Here’s a quick list:
|Physical Symptoms||Emotional Symptoms||Mental Symptoms|
Awareness is the first step in managing anxiety. Once we’re aware that we’re experiencing anxiety, we can then choose to do something about it.
The key to managing anxiety and calming the nervous system is the Vagus Nerve.
The vagus nerve is a long wandering nerve that links the brain stem to the heart, lungs, and gut. It also branches out to touch and interact with the liver, spleen, gallbladder, ureter, female fertility organs, neck, ears, tongue, and kidneys.
The vagus nerve controls the relaxation response:
- It helps regulate heartbeat, controls muscle movements and maintains the pace of breathing
- It supports the functioning of the digestive tract, allowing the contraction of the stomach and intestine muscles to digest food.
- Facilitates relaxation after a stressful situation
- Send sensory information to the brain about organ status.
Stimulating the vagus nerve activates the relaxation response in our nervous system.
9 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
These techniques to stimulates the vagus nerve will help the mind, body and nervous system to calm down.
1.Compassion – Compassion stimulates the vagus nerves and increases our positive emotions such as serenity, joy and hope (1). Compassion toward others also takes our focus off our own problems and gives us a broader perspective. While compassion is a tenet of many religions, it’s also incredibly beneficial for our physical, mental and emotional health through its effect on our vagus nerve. Try this Compassion Meditation and notice how you feel afterwards.
2. Cold – Exposing our face, neck and chest to cold water stimulates the Vagus Nerve and lowers the stress response. When showering, instead of waiting for the water to heat up, put your head and neck under the cold until it warms up. Make the last minute of your shower cold. Cold showers stimulate the vagus nerve and lower our stress levels.
3. Gargling – Gargling water or mouth wash stimulates the muscles of the pallet which activate the vagus nerve. Try gargling each time your brush your teeth or while you have a cold shower to calm your nerves.
4. Singing And Chanting – The vagus nerve controls our vocal cords which is why humming, mantra chanting and singing are calm, relaxing and feel good. My favourite humming technique is Brahmari Breath or Hummingbee breath. Inhale through the nose and make the sound MMMMMM on the exhale. Repeat ten times and focus on the vibration in the vocal cords, which is stimulating the vagus nerve.
5. Massage – The Vagus Nerve is closest to the surface of the skin around the face, neck and ears. Give yourself a head and neck massage focusing on the temples, earlobes, sides of the neck, jaw and throat.
6. Laughter – Laughter compresses the diaphragm forcing the exhale and stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm, so whenever we engage the diaphragm, the vagus nerve is also stimulated. Aim for deep belly laughs. The good thing about laughter is that the body can’t tell the difference between simulated laughter and genuine laughter so we can fake it till we make it and it will still calm us down. Try Laughter Yoga, its hysterical and very good for lowering stress and anxiety.
7. Diaphragmatic Breathing —Slow, deep breathing into the belly improves vagal tone. Rest your hands on your belly and feel your belly rise and fall with your breath. Try inflating your belly like a balloon on the inhale and let it go on the exhale. Make your exhales twice as long as your inhale. Five minutes each day of belly breathing and slow exhales will lower our blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels.
- Downward Facing Dog
- Upward Facing Dog
- Melting Heart Pose
- Twisting poses
- Shoulder stretches
- Backward bends
9. Yoga Nidra — is a relaxation exercise also known as Yogi Sleep. Yoga Nidra guides our awareness to different parts of the body and lowers physical, emotional and mental stress. The rotation of consciousness that Yoga Nidra provides stimulates the Vagus Nerve. Try this Yoga Nidra exercise here.
Calming the farm requires daily practice. Schedule it into your routine. These little tips and tricks will improve the health of our vagus nerve and keep us calm during the Coronavirus.
Keep calm and stay safe,
Need more calm? Check out the Art of Relaxation.
Artwork by @sinashagrai
(1). Kok, Coffey, Cohn et al. (2013)”How positive emotions build physical health: perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone” Journal of Psychological Science Vol 24.