Take a deep breath. Hug someone. Stretch. Each of these simple gestures provides a feeling of calm and relief, activating a branch of the nervous system that connects the brain to the heart, gut, immune system and many organs. This branch is known as the vagus nerve.
One of the main roles of the vagus nerve is to allow our body to return to normal functioning, after being disrupted by the perception of a threat. Indeed, in the presence of danger, our body triggers its alarm system, which then causes us to have sudden reactions of hypervigilance, fight, flight or immobility, which put all non-vital bodily functions on hold ( digestion , immunity , hormones, etc.). Once the danger has passed, bodily functions can return to normal thanks to stimulation of the vagus nerve. But, when our stress levels become chronic and our vagus nerve loses tone, we are more likely to suffer from disorders such as anxiety , depression, gut problems and inflammatory diseases.
Here are 4 tips to stimulate your vagus nerve on a daily basis:
Positive social relationships
The positive social cues characteristic of healthy, nurturing social relationships (smiles, warm eye contact, kind vocal tones, or any caring attitude) activate brain structures that stimulate the vagus nerve and reduce our hypervigilance. Result ? Stress and fear evaporate, you calm down and a feeling of peace and serenity comes over you.
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, it is an integral part of yoga, meditation and even cardiac coherence practices, and is largely responsible for their benefits. It is also an excellent exercise that can be done anytime and anywhere, to instantly stimulate your vagus nerve and reduce your reactivity to stressful situations and be able to respond to them more calmly.
Exposure to cold
Taking a shower or splashing your face with cold water increases stimulation of the vagus nerve. More concretely, the sympathetic activity responsible for the “fight and flight” reactions that characterize stressful situations gradually decreases, while the parasympathetic activity responsible for rest, correct digestion and detoxification increases.
Singing or gargling
You can also use singing, humming, and gargling to activate your vocal cords and the muscles in the back of your throat, which are connected to the vagus nerve. Incorporating these activities into your daily routine will help you increase your vagal tone.
- Forsythe P, Bienenstock J, Kunze WA.Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut axis communication. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:115-33.
- Kok, B, Fredrickson, B, Coffey, K, et al. How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health: Perceived Positive Social Connection.