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Stimulating the Vagus Nerve to Help Your Body Relax

We all periodically have days that tend to get to the better of us and we can end up feeling frazzled, stressed out, and unable to concentrate. If it feels like you’ve tried a lot of the standard relaxation techniques, but it’s still not resulting in much of a shift, one thing you may want to try out is targeting your vagus nerve. In today’s blog, we’ll look at what the vagus nerve is and some simple ways to harness your body’s natural ability to reduce stress and anxiety.


What Is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve is the main nerve in your parasympathetic nervous system and is key to how you rest and digest. In an article on Forbes, they write, “The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It comes from the Latin word, vagus, for “wandering.” That’s because it wanders throughout your body, with wide distribution connecting the brainstem to the body. Only mammals have this nerve. It helps the immune system and inflammation response to disease. It has four main functions: sensory, special sensory, motor and parasympathetic. It has the dorsal and ventral parts to itself. The dorsal is the back and the ventral is in the front. During neuroception, both parts may be activated as you analyze environment cues of safety or danger. Safety cues activates the ventral, and danger cues activate the dorsal. There are three states of being: mobilization, immobilization or social engagement in response to your environment. A healthy vagal nerve leads you to respond mindfully.”


Exercises to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Thankfully stimulating the vagus nerve is fairly easy and many of the ways to do so don’t even require you to leave your desk chair. In an article on Charlie Health, they recommend 5 techniques. The first is deep breathing; you can find a lot of free meditations on YouTube if you need guidance on this. The second technique is making certain sounds like humming, singing, or gargling with water (this could be as simple as gargling with warm, salty water for 60 seconds after brushing your teeth). The third is cold exposure such as a cold shower or bath, submerging your face in ice water, or holding an ice pack to your neck. The next is physical exercise, which could be as simple as going for a walk outside. And the final technique they list is massage, writing “For example, research has shown that massaging the head and neck area can stimulate vagal sensory neurons and activate the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest and digest mode.” In the Forbes article mentioned above, they have a specific exercise they recommend as well, and it’s one you can easily do at your desk chair. It’s called “The Half-Salamander Exercise:

  1. Eyes looks right without turning head
  2. Tilt head to the right towards shoulder
  3. Hold for thirty to sixty seconds
  4. Then eyes and head straight back to neutral
  5. Eyes look left without turning head
  6. Tilt head to the left towards shoulder
  7. Hold for thirty to sixty seconds
  8. Then return to neutral state

A variation is to look in the opposite direction of the head tilt so the head tilts left and eyes look right and vice versa. Both hold their necks thirty to sixty seconds.”