According to various etymological studies, the origin of the terms “gut feeling” or “follow your heart” is accredited to the vagus nerve. The neurons lining your gut or intestine communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which also passes through your chest (hence the latter phrase about the heart). Being the longest nerve in the body, the vagus connects your brain to your large intestine.
When you’re stressed, your heart rate shoots up. Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline then start coursing through your body, which negatively affects your physical and mental wellbeing. If you let this happen frequently, it can cause chronic illnesses like anxiety, diabetes, mood swings, gut inflammation, and many others. In other cases, the nerve may also start dysfunctioning as you age.
The good news is that there are many ways to relieve stress by stimulating your vagal nerve regularly.
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Benefits of a Higher Vagal Tone
The vagal nerve is a part of the parasympathetic or your ‘rest and digest’ nervous system. Hence, it plays a pivotal role in ensuring good mental health. A higher vagal tone helps in stress and anxiety management, keeping you from reacting dangerously in problematic situations.
When you maintain good vagal nerve health, your mood stays uplifted more often, mental health is regulated, which in turn enables you to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships with your peers and family members.
It also helps you sleep well and recharge. Matthew Walker, Founder-Director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science, has extensively covered all the benefits of sound sleep on humans beings in his book titled ‘Why We Sleep’.
To help you maintain good vagal tone and gain control over stress, we’ve put together some really effective and easy methods below.
Deep and slow breathing
When you slow down your breathing and take long and intentional breaths, your heart rate also slows down and blood pressure lowers. This relaxes your muscles, which then enables the vagus nerve to send signals to your brain indicating you are safe.
Normally, our breathing cycle involves ten to fourteen breaths every minute. Cut this down to six breaths a minute and watch yourself lose the stress to significant levels. You can even try holding your breath for up to four slow counts every time you inhale or exhale. Regular practice of this equips you with a safe and quick technique to calm down when you feel stressed out.
Humming Or Chanting
Research indicates that singing, humming or chanting ‘Om’ and even gargling can help activate the vagus nerve since it is connected to the vocal chords and also the muscles behind your throat. This increases your heart rate and hold on, yes, increased heart rate in this situation is good because these rhythmic activities again help in increasing your vagal tone.
Regular consumption of specific probiotics
Certain probiotics contribute in maintaining a good gut, which means enhances gut to brain interaction. They help in ensuring there’s ample amounts of ‘good bacteria’ in your gut which in turn improves brain function. However, you must consult your physician before deciding on which probiotics you should start taking.
This is the most-advised routine by any medical practitioner to those wanting to improve their mental wellbeing. Not only does exercise increase your brain’s growth hormone or GH, it’s also known to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Weight lifting twice or four times a week, sprinting twice a week, brisk walking for thirty to sixty minutes every day are all known to stimulate your vagus nerve. You could also choose a sport and play it regularly to promote vagal tone. However, do not over-train or over-exhaust your body with excessive exercise. Always keep it moderate and listen to your body when it tells you to stop.
Sudarshan Kriya and Yoga
A combination of simple yogasanas and meditation, sky yoga or Sudarshan Kriya is a breathing technique that stimulated the vagus nerve and eliminates toxins from the body. The rhythmic breathing during SKY yoga has been scientifically proven to aid in curing symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, panic attacks, stress, and depression.
A quick technique to feel calm and relaxed after a stressful event, meditation also stimulates the vagus nerve. There are several apps available in the app markets to help you get into a state of meditation without much effort. No matter where you are, meditation is a strong tool to help stimulate vagal activity and release stressful emotions.
Cold compress or immersion
Exposure to cold is proven to activate cholinergic neurons that pass through the vagus pathways. A cold shower when you feel stressed or even immersing your face in cold water can instantly reduce your ‘fight or flight’ response. You could also try switching to cold water during the last minute or 30 seconds of your hot water shower.
According to research, good massages taken regularly help increase your vagal tone. Foot reflexology, facial massages, gentle stressing on specific points during a back massage, all contribute towards elevated vagal activity. Be sure to include massages in your self-care routine!
That’s right! Laughing more often on a regular basis ensure good vagus nerve health. Surround yourself with peers who you can have a good laugh with and avoid those who weigh you down with their negative energies. Make a playlist of fun podcasts or feel-good shows that will make you laugh and listen to them or watch them in your free time. It’s the best way to relieve stress instantly.
The vagus nerve is a dual-branched cranial nerve responsible for the most vital functions of the body like digestion, immune response, regulation of the heart rate, breathing, taste and so on. But most importantly, the vagus nerve helps regulate your stress response. Although it’s an issue that starts mentally, stress can be detrimental to your physical well-being since it reduces the body’s healing capacity and makes it difficult to decrease pain. These methods to promote vagal tone will help you stay focussed and ensure your holistic wellbeing in the long run.