If you get a stomach ache, headache, or your heart races when you’re upset, stressed, or you experience anxiety, there is a cure! You can harness the power of your own body to feel better. The longest nerve in your body is called the vagus nerve. Vagus means “wanderer” in Latin, which is fitting because the vagus nerve wanders throughout your body. It connects your brain, heart, gut, and lungs. This nerve is like a superpower inside of you that helps to combat anxiety, stress, depression, and overwhelm.
Being able to relax after anxiety ramps up
The vagus nerve triggers a relaxation response and increases something called vagal tone. Vagal tone measures your body’s ability to relax. Studies have shown that people who have higher vagal tone are healthier overall. Not only does vagal tone impact your mental health, but it impacts your physical health.
Higher vagal tone is associated with having a stronger immune system, fewer cardiovascular issues, and less inflammation. It’s also related to more happiness, compassion, and feeling more socially connected to others.
In order to increase your vagal tone, you would stimulate the vagus nerve. This helps you feel calmer, clearer, and more put together. It even makes you more resilient and able to pull yourself through potentially traumatic and upsetting situations.
How anxiety influences your physical response
Medical News Today wrote, “The vagus nerve sends information from the gut to the brain, which is linked to dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear–hence the saying, ‘gut feeling.’ These signals help a person to recover from stressful and scary situations.”
There are many ways to stimulate your vagus nerve and help ease anxiety, lower your stress, and reduce overwhelm.
Activities to decrease anxiety and increase vagal tone
- Deep & Slow Breathing
For the majority of people, taking 10 to 14 breaths per minute is normal. Slowing down your breath to 6 breaths per minute is a great way to immediately relieve stress. If you place a hand on your stomach, focus on breathing so deeply that your stomach is like a balloon that fills up when you inhale and deflates when you exhale.
Research shows that meditation increases positive emotions and helps you to feel better about yourself. It can also help to reduce your “fight or flight” response when something triggers you. You may be saying, “I’m not good at meditating.” That’s okay! Just allowing your body and brain to sit in stillness has benefits. If your mind wanders, say to yourself, “thinking.” You don’t need to judge the thoughts, just acknowledge them. Want a little extra help? Check out apps that include guided meditations, like: Insight Timer, Calm, Balance, or even YouTube.
Exercise increases the growth hormone in your brain, reverses cognitive decline, and supports mitochondria in your brain (helps you to think more clearly by promoting growth of new brain cells).
- Connecting With Others and Laughing
When you connect with other people, have deep and real conversations and laugh, this reduces your bodies stress hormone. Laughter helps to increase your heart rate variability and improves mood. Being in community and having a sense of belonging help you to feel safe and secure. When you are connected, you are calmer and more positive.
Additional methods to stimulate your vagus nerve include: Eating probiotics, getting a massage, taking cold showers/plungs, consuming Omega-3 fatty acids, and singing or humming.
Want to read more about the vagus nerve? Check out the book Accessing the Healing Power of The Vagus Nerve
For more on how to improve your overall wellbeing, check out these 10 self-care tips.
Now, go and take some deep breaths! You deserve it.