Vagus Nerve Part 2: Promoting Calm through Vagus Nerve Stimulation
In our day to day lives, we encounter numerous cues from our environment that our bodies then process and make determinations on our level of safety and security in our environments. Our bodies may perceive an interaction with an angry coworker or an upcoming SAT exam as highly stressful even if our physical bodies are not being threatened. These moments can add up day in and day out, often leading to a state of chronic stress, where we find ourselves consistently bombarded with experiences and interactions that deplete us. Vagus Nerve stimulation can help promote calm and help with other mental health issues.
The Role of Stress
Chronic stress is a key factor in triggering mental health problems, and can often be accompanied by issues such as anxiety, mood dysregulation and sleep disruption. It is important to consider the impact that chronic stress and anxiety has on our whole self- mind and body- in order to effectively intervene and promote healthy coping and lifestyle changes. We can understand that anxiety is not just made up of our thoughts or perceived emotions, but lives in our bodies and communicates via our bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
Vagus Nerve and Promoting Calm
While the cause of anxiety in the physical body is not fully understood, there is evidence that dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system may play a role. In particular, there is growing evidence that abnormalities in the function of the vagus nerve may contribute to the development of anxiety disorders. To briefly review, the vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 cranial nerves.
The vagus nerve originates in the brainstem and innervates many organs in the body, including the heart, lungs, and gut. It’s responsible for a wide variety of bodily functions, including heart rate, breathing, digestion, and sleep. The vagus nerve plays an important role in regulating autonomic function, and abnormalities in its function have been implicated in a wide range of diseases, including anxiety disorders.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Recent studies have shown that stimulating the vagus nerve can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep. As mentioned in our previous post, it is known that the vagus nerve plays a key role in our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for what we consider to be our ‘rest and digest’ state of being. When our vagus nerve is stimulated, this in turn leads to signals telling our body to reduce our heart rate, slow our breathing, and calm down our nervous system.
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
There are a few different ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, including:
Recent research suggests that acupuncture may help to improve the function of the vagus nerve, and as a result, may offer some benefits for treating conditions like anxiety and depression. By stimulating the vagus nerve, acupuncture also has an ability to promote anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
- Humming and Chanting
Since part of the vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and muscles lining your throat, humming and chanting are ways of activating muscles near the vagus nerve and stimulating it directly.
- Meditation, Yoga and Deep Breathing
Meditating regularly can have a number of health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving mental clarity, and slowing the aging process. Stimulating the vagus nerve can take these benefits to the next level, providing relief from chronic pain, improving digestion, and even helping to treat depression and obesity. Consider trying the 4-7-8 deep breathing technique, in which you breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath on the inhale for 7 seconds and then release your breath through your mouth on the exhale for 8 seconds.
Each of these methods has been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety and promoting better sleep.
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