Your vagus nerve is your body's information highway. It helps your brain and body communicate, playing an important role in how you feel.
The vagus nerve, which acts as an information highway between the brain and the body, plays a significant role in those feelings of overwhelm you may be experiencing. Every day seems to bring with it an amplified level of stress. Your vagus nerve holds the key to lessening that anxiety.
The longest and most complex of your cranial nerves, your vagus nerve regulates a variety of your body’s automatic functions (heart rate, breathing, etc.), but also directly contributes to your emotional health. It runs down your spine, connecting your brain to your abdomen, and is responsible for “gut feelings” and creates the much-lauded mind-body connection.
When your vagus nerve is stimulated, it acts as a brake on your nervous system’s reaction to stress—your fight-or-flight response. As your vagus nerve becomes more toned from increased stimulation, you begin to experience more feelings of calm, more frequently.
[Also read: “Teaching the Body to Feel Safe.”]
Here are three quick things you can do—anytime—to help you stimulate and tone your vagus nerve and create immediate feelings of calm.
- SING. The vagus nerve connects to your vocal cords, so singing any sound will help stimulate it. While low-toned sounds like “vooooooo” or “om” are the most effective (think of the sound chanted at the end of yoga class), any singing works. Try belting out a song next time you’re in the car rather than turning on the news.
- SPLASH IN COLD WATER.
Research shows that cold water stimulates your vagus nerve and improves its tone over time. Next time you’re in the shower, turn down the water temperature for the last few seconds (try and work your way up to 30 seconds). Splashing ice-cold water on your face can also be effective.
- BREATHE. Instead of your normal breathing pattern, exhale for a longer time than you inhale. Give it a try: Breath in for a count of four, and then exhale while you count to eight. Repeat this a couple of times. Breathing in this way reactivates your vagus nerve.
Keep reading: “Breath as Prayer.”