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  • Writer's pictureStacey Murtagh

Feeling anxious? Five Ways to stimulate the vagus nerve

Many of us have felt anxiety at times and perhaps even more so over the past year. When we experience anxiety we typically enter the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) otherwise known as fight or flight, which we very much need if we're running from a bear or just to get us out of bed, but we don't want to live in fight or flight mode all day long. To help us get into the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) also known as 'rest and digest' we want to 'tone or stimulate' the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve connects your gut to your brain, which runs from your tailbone up through every major organ and through your vocal cords up to your brain. There are many ways we can stimulate the vagus nerve to help us get into a 'rest and digest' state, which ultimately helps us reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve mental wellbeing.

  1. Walk in silence: this is part of my daily morning practice. Walking in nature and silence helps stimulate the brain through reflection and brainstorming thus inducing a state of calmness. Nature also boosts healthy microbiome in the gut.

  2. Chant or Hum or Sing: the vibrations of any of these transcend throughout the body helping to activate the vagus nerve. In Yoga we chant mantras like 'om' to do just that. Singing will also produce saliva which can help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.

  3. Deep diaphragmatic breathing: helps increase oxygen to the brain and stimulates the vagus nerve bringing a sense of calm. Using movement with breath particularly in Yoga helps us become more present with the body and breath.

  4. Take a bath: Hot water activates the vagus nerve and relaxes the body. Not only does the hot water help relax the muscles but also the mind. No bath? Just standing in a hot shower should help too.

  5. Hug someone you love: hugging someone helps release oxytocin which helps reduce stress and lower your heart rate. If you're not in the position to receive daily hugs, try a weighted blanket which has a similar affect. *covid safe hugs of course :-)

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