The vagus nerve runs all the way from our brain to our abdomen and has a huge impact on our mental and gut health.
The purpose of the Vagus nerve is to connect the brain with all other parts of our body. It is the longest nerve in our body and runs down the right side of our neck and supplies our organs and brain with vital information. It controls things like our heart rate, digestive tract, lung function, our ability to swallow, and even bladder control, just to name a few.
But it doesn’t stop there, the vagus nerve also affects our mental health, and stimulating it has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and even PTSD symptoms. The vagus nerve sends signals back and forth from the brain to the body’s organs, it becomes an obvious link between our physical and mental health, otherwise known as the ‘mind/body connection’.
It is found that when the vagus nerve is stimulated, we can more easily overcome stress symptoms, so even if we feel bad, it’s short lived and we can more quickly rebound.
The vagus nerve impacts our stress response, more specifically, the opposite response. It plays an important role in helping us to calm down once a threat has passed. The nerve sends signals to the body’s internal organs to release hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin to help calm the body down.
These hormones open our heart and help us to connect with the world around us with love. Connection creates magic.
Oxytocin is popularly known as the love hormone. Oxytocin is released in the body while the mother breastfeeds the baby and also during sexual intimacy. When we feel love, we are less likely to feel stressed. Vasopressin is a hormone that is needed for love. It makes you want to protect your partner and helps to feel connection and harmony. So if your vagus nerve response is stronger, then the faster you bounce back after a stressful situation has passed.
To calm down faster and avoid prolonged stress response, it is important to learn to work with the vagus nerve. It is an important key for both physical and mental health.
So now that we know about the connection of the vagus nerve for physical and mental health, we can stimulate the vagus nerve to get out of stress faster and elevate our emotions to facilitate good physical and mental health.
The following are the ways that help to stimulate the vagus nerve.
1. Deep and slow breathing: Breathing deeply lowers stress levels because it stimulates the vagus nerve. Extending inhalation for 3 counts – holding for 3 counts – extending exhalation for 3 counts – holding for 3 counts – and repeating this process for 3 minutes activates the nerve and calms down the entire body system. Alternative nostril breathing done during yoga or meditation is also a great method.
2. Oral stimulation: Humming ‘HU’ or ‘AAH’ or ‘OHM’ for a few minutes helps to stimulate the vagus nerve.
3. Laughter: Laughter is powerful to stimulate the vagus nerve to bring in happy love hormones to the body system and create good physical and mental health. Self initiated laughter is very good. Laughter yoga or laughter therapy are very effective.
4. Sleeping on the right side stimulates the vagus nerve to release calming hormones.
5. Exposure to cold: taking a cold shower or just splashing cold water on the face is an ideal way to stimulate the vagus nerve.
6. Massage from the neck to the back of the ears and very gentle ear massages are very effective therapy to stimulate the vagus nerve and create stress relief. Three gentle steps of the ear massage are: Massage the ridge above the ear canal in both ears, focus on the skin only, do as long as it feels comfortable. Then massage the back of the ear canal towards the back of your head. Then stretch the skin all around your ear, in an up, down, center away from the ear movement. These gentle ear massage can be used for instant stress and anxiety relief.
7. Probiotics: Probiotics help improve your gut health and support vagus nerve function.
8. VNS device – This is a vagus nerve stimulation device that is implanted for people who are not able to respond well to stress relief medications. This device has been found to be effective in treating epilepsy, depression and heart conditions.

Modern life and its innumerable stressful situations calls for an antidote, to help to calm down the system and maintain physical and mental health. When one is free from stress then the mind is clear and it is easy to find better solutions. Simple practices of breathing, meditation, laughter brings great relief from anxiety. Choose to make these a part of your everyday practice.


Premlatha Rajkumar

© PRajkumar, 2022

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