The vagus nerve is a key connector between your brain and body, controlling numerous automatic bodily functions such as breathing and digestion. It's also the main component of the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to disengage your body's fight-or-flight response to stress. As well as modifying your stress response, the vagus nerve is very susceptible to stress itself, and overstimulating it can cause health issues.
Fortunately, there are several ways to strengthen your vagus nerve, improving its tone and allowing it to send those all-important signals to offset your body’s stress response mode. A healthy vagus nerve will help reduce your anxiety levels and improve your overall mental health. Here’s how to use your tech to achieve this.
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1. Exercise With Apple Fitness+
Vagus nerve stimulation is critical to improving its tone and, therefore, your ability to respond to stressors. Physical exercise is key, and any type of activity that increases heart variability will strengthen the vagus nerve.
Finding an activity you enjoy will only bring further benefits, as it releases those extra ‘feel good’ endorphins. Why not experiment with various exercises to see what boosts your mood? Apple Fitness+ subscription service offers a wide range of options, from HIIT to dance and kickboxing. There are plenty of inspirational Apple Fitness+ workouts for your body and mind. Try yoga for the stress-busting relaxation it provides.
2. Breathe With Breathwrk
Breathing exercises stimulate the vagus nerve and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, triggering your relaxation response. That’s why they’re so good for relieving stress and anxiety. You can begin practicing this by taking a few deep breaths from your abdomen.
Since your breathing is often one of the first things you lose control of when you’re stressed, it can help to learn some breathing techniques to call on in those situations.
Download one of the numerous apps with breathing exercises for relaxation to help you master the practice. Breathwrk is a popular choice. The feature-packed app includes classes and activities for relaxing, sleep preparation, and even managing health conditions.
3. Meditation and Mindfulness With Calm
Meditation calms your mind, and the relaxed state you achieve helps your vagus nerve. There are lots of great meditation apps to help you pause for a mindful moment. And if you’re a beginner to mindful meditation, try using an app like Calm to help you master the practice.
Calm provides a comprehensive suite of meditation resources, including beginners’ programs. Fresh content is added daily, and there’s even a Calm Kids section to get your whole family involved.
4 Listen to ASMR Sounds
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, meaning the "brain tingles" you get in response to certain sounds. ASMR sounds can calm the nervous system and invoke a relaxed state.
There are several Android and iPhone apps for ASMR, and you can also seek out ASMR YouTube channels to help you relax. For example, The Miracle Forest YouTube channel provides fantasy soundscapes that layer ambient sound textures with music and images.
If the music and sounds contained in these apps don’t work for you, seek out any music that gives you that "tingly" relaxed sense.
5. Sing With Playlists on Spotify or Apple Music
There’s a more direct way to use music, however. Since the vagus nerve runs up your neck, it can be nudged and stimulated by singing. So make a playlist of positive music on Spotify or Apple Music and sing along to your favorite tunes.
Singing has the added benefit of helping to regulate your breathing. If you really can’t face hearing your own voice, though, humming along will also engage your vocal cords and stimulate that vagus nerve.
6. Cold Water Immersion With the Wim Hof Method
Cold exposure can help to stimulate your vagus nerve and calm your anxiety. According to research published in JMIR, cold stimulation applied directly to participants’ neck areas resulted in a lowered heart rate. Restricting your blood vessels in this area activates your vagus nerve and calms you down.
One of the key pillars of the Wim Hof Method for well-being is cold exposure, along with breathing exercises and commitment. Try the official Wim Hof Method app to learn more, or download some alternative apps for practicing Wim Hof breathing and cold therapy.
7. Connect With Others on Wisdo
Anything that helps to improve your emotional state helps to activate your vagus nerve and calm your anxiety. However, isolation can exacerbate feelings of stress, and you can lose perspective. Therefore, it’s essential to connect with other people, whether in real life or virtually.
Call, text, or connect with a friend or loved one. You could join an online community using an app like Wisdo. Here you can meet others with similar interests and values and get support with any challenges you’re facing from others in the same situation. These simple acts can help you with your emotional regulation.
Although it’s a cliche to say that laughter is the best medicine, it happens to be pretty accurate. Laughter stimulates the vagus nerve, creating that relaxation response. It also boosts your mood and triggers the release of happy hormones such as dopamine and endorphins, reducing your stress levels and helping you to forget your problems.
In fact, there’s no downside to enjoying a good giggle. Have some comedy podcasts to hand or watch some of the side-splitting YouTube pet videos on offer.
Strengthen Your Vagus Nerve to Lower Anxiety and Improve Your Well-Being
The vagus nerve provides a vital connection between your brain and your body. Strengthening its function by stimulating it using the ideas here can significantly affect your well-being.
Practicing a few of these tips regularly can help you to improve your emotional regulation. You’ll then be able to calm down quickly after periods of stress and exist in a more restful state. And if you suffer from anxiety, you’ll have some practical strategies in your mental toolkit to help you cope in trying situations. Each one is also great for contributing to an all-around healthy lifestyle, too.