If you’ve been dealing with anxiety, and you’ve been searching for natural methods for managing your stress, you might have stumbled across a few mentions of the “vagus nerve.”
The vagus nerve is an important part of your nervous system that regulates your emotional reactions after you experience stress. Basically, its function involves calming you down after you’ve faced an anxiety-inducing situation.
Today, there is a growing interest in the way your vagus nerve response influences your overall mental health. By discovering how to stimulate the vagus nerve through simple, natural techniques, you can gain more control over your stress response.
Let’s explore why the vagus nerve is so important and how you can use these strategies in your daily life!
Understanding Your Nervous System
Your automatic nervous system has two crucial divisions: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. This system regulates functions in your body that you do not consciously control, like digestion.
Your parasympathetic nervous system prompts your body’s actions and relaxes you. Both systems work together to relax your body and mind after a stressful moment.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
Your vagus nerve is part of your automatic nervous system. It is the longest nerve in this system. This nerve starts in the brain and connects with other parts of your body, like your digestive system.
Basically, it’s an essential nerve pathway within your parasympathetic nervous system, and it supports several key processes in your body, like your relaxation response.
How the Vagus Nerve Works
But how does the vagus nerve really work? The vagus nerve picks up signals from your body and communicates these messages to your brain. Then, your brain sends the appropriate response messages to your organs.
The term “vagal tone” refers to how well your vagus nerve is working – simply put, a strong vagal tone means that your vagus nerve works just as it should. When your vagus nerve is functioning at a high level, you’ll have an easier time calming down after you get stressed out.
But if you have a low vagal tone, you might struggle when it comes to your stress response. You may have trouble calming yourself down after experiencing anxiety, which can be quite frustrating. In fact, experiencing a heightened stress response due to low vagal tone can actually exacerbate conditions like depression, clinical anxiety, and physical inflammation.
This is why gaining a deeper understanding of the vagus nerve is so crucial when it comes to managing your mental health.
Stimulating the Vagus Nerve
You do not need to be a mental health professional or doctor to learn how to stimulate the vagus nerve. It’s actually quite easy to do on your own!
For example, if you’re looking for an easy strategy to help manage your anxiety, you can draw inspiration from yogic breathing, which works so well because it stimulates the vagus nerve.
A breathing pattern with a longer exhale than inhale will activate your vagus nerve. Taking long, slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm can help you get your anxiety under control during stressful moments.
Other Ways to Activate the Vagus Nerve
There is ongoing research on other ways to activate the vagus nerve. For instance, there is some evidence that swimming in cold water, or just splashing your face with cold water, are both effective methods for vagus nerve stimulation.
However, many people find deep, slow breathing to be a much more pleasant method!
Are you interested in learning new coping skills for dealing with anxiety? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.