One of the most effective ways to reduce your stress and anxiety level is to stimulate your vagus nerve. Running from the brain to the colon, this nerve is an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the body after stress. The vagus nerve may hold the key to helping you respond better to stressful situations, says the Cleveland Clinic. The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system that allow us to “rest and digest.” It carries electrical signals between your brain and body.

The vagus nerve carries signals from your brain to different parts of your body, regulating heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, immune system and mood. With vagus nerve stimulation you can improve your ability to counteract the signals that cause anxiety.

Here are five ways to activate this calming nerve:

  1. Deep belly breathing. Deep breathing is a powerful tool to help you stay calm, but one study found that it also helps stimulate the vagus nerve, regulating feelings of anxiety in older adults. It also promotes successful aging.
  2. Exhale longer than you inhale. When we exhale, the vagus nerve releases a chemical known as acetylcholine, which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down the heart rate and blood pressure. To access this benefit, inhale slowly and deeply to the count of four and exhale to the count of eight.
  3. Gargle with water and sing. If you love to sing in the shower, you are one step ahead in stimulating the vagus nerve. Researchers from the University of Ottawa explained that the vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of the neck. “Singing, humming, chanting, and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve,” said University of Ottawa researchers.
  4. Laugh. Laughter can also stimulate your vagal nerve by activating your vocal cords. According to David Friedman, best-selling author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction, laughter also activates the release of serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being and happiness.  “A good belly laugh also increases our number of immune cells and infection fighting antibodies,” adds Friedman, who is a doctor of chiropractic and naturopathy, and holds a post-doctorate certification in neurology.
  5. Cold water immersion. Exposing your body to acute cold conditions, such as taking a cold shower or putting your face in a bowl of icy water for a few seconds helps activate the vagus nerve, decrease heart rate, and turn on the immune system. “While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic (fight or flight) activity declines and parasympathetic activity increases,” says Wim Hof, a cold-water immersion advocate.

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