Known as your secret weapon for combatting stress, the vagus nerve is worth the hype in the scientific and psychological world. It’s a cranial nerve that counteracts your fight-flight-or-freeze response, and when it’s stimulated, you feel more relaxed and happy. Even more, it builds your resiliency, helping you to bounce back quicker from challenges and trauma. Sounds great, right? It is, and this article will dive into several vagus nerve exercises for anxiety to increase your overall wellbeing.
What Is The Vagus Nerve?
Before we discuss the vagus nerve, it’s important to address a key component; the fight-flight-or-freeze response. When your body senses danger, it begins releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and shuts down your other systems to survive. However, we often encounter triggers that don’t enable us the opportunity to run and hide, like having a disagreement with your boss or getting cut off in traffic. Therefore, experiencing chronic stress over time can negatively affect our physical and mental health over time. But thankfully, the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body, counteracts this stress response. It connects the brain to the body and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Because of this secret weapon, you’re able to calm down easier after an anxious situation. But it is important to stimulate the vagus nerve through exercises to promote greater wellbeing and rectify the anxiety you experience.
10 Vagus Nerve Exercises for Anxiety
Just take it from Wim Hoff, also known as the Iceman, who set several Guinness World Records for training his body to withstand low temperatures – cold water is wonderful for your physical and mental health. Whether you take a cold shower or soak your face in an ice bath, the frigid water shocks your sympathetic nervous system, helping you forget your worries. But if ice swimming seems too extreme, you can also apply a cold compress to your face to help counteract your anxiety. It works!
From reducing negative emotions to lowering blood pressure, meditation is certainly the gift that keeps on giving. But the most well-known benefit, stress reduction, is in large part due to vagus stimulation. When you meditate, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system and increase vagus tone. As a result, you leave your meditation for beginners feeling happier, more relaxed, and empowered to tackle your day.
Laughter is certainly the best medicine, and this quote also connects to the vagus nerve. Especially when you share a laugh with your loved ones, you feel safe, supported, and in an environment where you can be your authentic self. These benefits aid your body’s ability to reduce stress and lift your mood. So, grab your friends and watch a feel-good movie or comedy to laugh your anxiety away.
4. Foot massage
Giving yourself a foot massage may be the last thing you want to do when you’re stressed, but hear us out. Foot massage is an act of self-care and self-love that activates your vagus nerve. Even just a few minutes of applying pressure to the soles of your feet will promote a sense of wellbeing. You can also gently rotate your ankle or stretch your toes back and forth for the same calming effect. So, when you’re really anxious and nothing seems to help, redirect your attention to your feet for a loving practice.
5. Voice play
Have you ever noticed you feel better after you hum or sing? That for just an instant, while immersed in a favorite song, your troubles no longer exist? This happens because activating your vocal cords actually stimulates the vagus nerve. So, when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed or stressed, play your favorite tunes and sing along for a mood boost.
6. Breathing methods
When you’re anxious, your heart rate increases and your breath becomes rapid and shallow. But lengthening and deepening your breath stimulates your vagus nerve and tells your brain there is no danger. In fact, slow breathing exercises decreased physiological stress in a sample of older adults. After practicing breathing, the participants felt more confident in managing their anxiety. Try box breathing for a calming effect;
- Slowly inhale as you count to four
- Then hold your breath for four seconds
- Next, exhale through your mouth for four
- And repeat these steps until you feel relaxed
7. Positive self-talk
One of the best vagus nerve exercises for anxiety is positive self-talk. In fact, using third-party pronouns can help you distance yourself from your intrusive thoughts while deactivating your stress response. For example, when you’re anxious, repeat, ” Hey (Fname), you got this. There is no danger present, and you, my friend, are safe”. Speaking to yourself in a quiet tone or inside your head helps recenter your attention and ground you in the present moment. Give it a try.
8. OM chanting
Considered a sacred practice in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths, om combines the benefits of voice play and meditation. Indeed, when repeated, it activates the vagus nerve and allows you to enter deep meditation. You wake up feeling more relaxed, centered, and peaceful. It’s also great to fuse it with your other meditation practices, like breathing exercises for anxiety or sitting meditation for a powerful vagus nerve routine.
ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) seems to be enjoyable for everyone. Even influencers creating ASMR skincare and ASMR mukbang videos feel both calming and entertaining. But why? Due to sensory input, the sounds interestingly send tingles down your neck and back, calming your nervous system. So, whether it’s the sound of animals eating or an influencer shaving soap, ASMR activates the vagus nerve and can reduce your anxiety.
10. Improving your diet
Do you know the saying, “Your gut is your second brain?” It’s no surprise if it rings a bell. Inspired by the vagus nerve, this quote relays the importance of our gut health. In fact, your second brain has a name; the enteric nervous system and its main connection travels back and forth along the vague nerve and your gut. By feeding your gut probiotics and fiber, you’re able to create more healthy bacteria, which leads to less stress, better decision-making, and improved emotional regulation! Science is fascinating.
The vagus nerve is your body’s secret weapon to calming your stress response and helping you become a happier you. Therefore, follow a few of these vagus nerve exercises for anxiety to investigate whether any of them make you feel more relaxed. If they don’t work and your anxiety feels too overwhelming to manage, it’s worth speaking to a mental health professional for support.
This post contains affiliate links.
Did you find this collection of vagus exercises for anxiety helpful? We’d love it if you shared this post on Pinterest!
Looking for more mental health tips? Make sure to follow our Mental Health Board on Pinterest!