A lot has been said about remedies for stress relief. From CBD to yoga to clubbing, everyone has their own method of shaking off the weight of the week and resetting.
But have you heard of the vagus nerve? Also known as the vagal nerves, they’re a main set of 12 nerves that controls your fight-or-flight reactions, as well as regulating your parasympathetic nervous system – something that’s affected by a lot of stress.
The vagus nerve also looks after your digestion, heart rate and immune system, and it’s the longest cranial nerve, running from your brain stem to your colon.
When it’s stimulated, it can help you calm down and diffuse feelings of stress and overwhelm. How to do that? Read on…
1. Deep belly breathing
The power of deep breathing is well known – it can calm us down and help us feel better, especially if we’re feeling particularly wobbly.
And deep breathing has also been found to help stimulate the vagus nerve, kickstarting its anti-anxiety and de-stressing capabilities. One study found that deep belly breathing and engaging the vagus nerve helped regulate feelings of anxiety in older adults and promoted successful ageing.
2. Exhaling longer than you inhale
When we breathe out, the vagus nerve lets out a chemical known as acetylcholine. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
Try doing deep breaths where you breathe in, hold for a count of four, and then breathe out slowly for a count of eight.
3. Gargling with water and singing
Shower singers rejoice; as the vagus nerve is connected to your vocal chords, a simple and fun way to activate it is by singing. According to the University of Ottawa, “Singing, humming, chanting and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve. This has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone.”
In the same way as the above, laughter can stimulate your vocal chords and help activate your vagus nerve. Plus, laughter is a natural stress reliever in itself!
5. Cold water immersion
Putting your face into icy water for a few seconds – you can do this with a bowl at home! – helps to activate the vagus nerve, decrease heart rate and switch on the immune system, according to cold water fanatic, Wim Hof.