Vagus Nerve Stimulation – Quick Tricks to Stop Anxiety
Article by Lucas Rockwood
Do you suffer from stress and anxiety? Do you get overwhelmed with worry, overthinking things that are out of your control? The solution to helping you to feel calm when those moments arise, could be to stimulate your vagus nerve – the nerve that runs down either side of your neck.
The name vagus comes from Latin, meaning ‘to wander’, like a vagabond. This 10th cranial nerve wanders throughout your thoracic cavity. It innervates some of the most important muscles and is responsible for some vital functions such as: breathing, speaking, swallowing, blood pressure, heart rate, orgasm, taste, circulation, digestion, gut health, and more.
The nerve itself sits within a fascial tube, called the carotid sheath. This is an important landmark in head and neck anatomy and it contains several vital neurovascular structures, including the carotid artery, jugular vein, vagus nerve, and sympathetic plexus.
What’s The Link to Anxiety?
The vagus nerve plays a key role in stimulating your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode) which is involved in a host of important bodily functions including stabilizing your mood, digestion, and heart rate.
When your vagus nerve is operating optimally it’s referred to as high vagal tone. This doesn’t mean you’ll never feel anxious or upset, but it does mean that you’ll be able to respond rather than react in those moments. And you’ll be much more adept at self-soothing and calming yourself down when a situation arises.
How Can I Tell if My Vagal Tone is Low?
Common signs of low vagal tone include feeling anxious and stressed; feeling wired but tired; and feeling overwhelmed with worry.
Here are three simple options to tests if your vagal tone is low and your nervous system is stuck in a sympathetic, fight or flight response:
Option 1: Check your nostrils with the nasal cycle test
Option 2: Close your eyes and check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Calm and collected? Or wired but tired?
Option 3: Open your mouth and say “ahhh” in the mirror, check for a deviation of your uvula – where the uvula, the fleshy bit at the back of your throat, leans to one side.
3 Ways to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
Here’s how to use ancient yoga techniques to stimulate your vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system response to help you calm down, relax, and find greater peace and balance in your life.
Bhramari (humming bee practice)
This practice helps to stimulate your vagus nerve and also increases the levels of nitric oxide (NO) released in the paranasal sinuses.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Exhale and hum slowly and with a low resonance.
- Keep your jaw relaxed and allow the hum sound to vibrate your mouth and jaw.
- Try 10 rounds and see how you feel.
Triangle Breathing with Chin Lock
Slow breathing combined with the chin lock help to stimulate your vagus nerve.
- Inhale through both nostrils 1-2-3-4.
- Close your nose and lock your chin to your chest for 1-2-3-4.
- Lift your chin and exhale slowly 4-3-2-1.
- Repeat for 10 rounds and see how you feel.
The auricular branch of your vagus nerve can be stimulated with this simple practice.
- Place your index finger gently outside the entrance to your ear.
- Place your thumbs on the back side.
- Make small circles forward 1-2-3-4-5
- Reverse for 5-4-3-2-1.
- Be very gentle and try 10 rounds.
Please do not use this article or video to diagnose or treat an illness or injury. Check with a trusted healthcare provider before starting any self-care routine.