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Last updated on July 17th, 2024 at 03:59 am

If you are one of the 15 million Americans(1) who experience anxiety, finding ways to put your mind and body at peace should be a priority. Vagus nerve exercises for anxiety could be the answer.

Why is the vagus nerve so vital for anxiety relief?

The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves in the body(2) and plays a significant role in regulating a host of bodily functions including digestion, heart rate, and breathing. Crucially, it also regulates the body’s stress response.

As part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve helps calm the body down after the body has been under intense stress. This includes anxiety, which could leave you feeling dizzy or in physical discomfort. Vagus nerve exercises for anxiety can calm the body and mind to reduce the presence of these symptoms while simultaneously bringing your breathing and heart rate back to normal levels.

Appreciating the importance of the vagus nerve is one thing, but activating it is another altogether. Thankfully, several exercises can be used to achieve the desired outcomes.

6 vagus nerve exercises for anxiety

Controlled vagus nerve breathing exercises

 

Paced breathing has long been associated with relaxation and well-being(3). Therefore, controlled breathing techniques can be one of the quickest and most effective ways to find relief when anxiety strikes.

 

The 4-7-8 breathing method is commonly accepted as one of the best. To do this, you should;

 

 

Other popular vagus nerve breathing exercises include deep breaths from the diaphragm, alternate nostril breathing, and breathing through the nose followed by exhaling through pursed lips. The immediate nature of the calming influence, combined with the fact you can do it anywhere, makes it worthwhile.

 

Vagus nerve reset exercises

Rather than simply activating the vagus nerve, it may be possible to reset the vagus nerve and release previous trauma. While different wellness experts have varying ideas regarding the best vagus nerve resetting exercises, the eyes are often seen as the window to success.

Eye yoga and eye movements(4) are touted as potential solutions. One popular method involves;

Daily vagus nerve exercises include resting the eyes in total darkness for a few minutes, which can be achieved by using an eye mask. As well as using the eyes to reset the vagus nerve, this step can fit nicely with the breathing exercises mentioned above.

Signing vagus nerve activation exercises

Vagus nerve activation exercises take many forms. However, singing (or humming) can be a particularly effective solution. This is because it naturally forces you to take longer exhales than inhales(5), which stimulates muscles in the throat. 

Given that the vagus nerve controls muscles in the larynx to produce sound, signing is a fantastic way to engage the vagus nerve. Other music-based tactics include;

In addition to the physical elements of engaging the vagus nerve, singing or even listening to music is a very effective way to distract the brain from whatever has triggered the anxiety. As such, it is one of the best ways to change your emotional state. 

Vagus nerve toning exercises through touch

The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and sends signals from the brain to many body parts. Unsurprisingly, then, it can be heavily impacted by the sensation of touch. A vagus nerve massage(6), massages body parts near the vagus nerve to stimulate it.

Foot massages are particularly effective at relaxing the vagus nerve to promote heightened relaxation. Top tips to do it well include;

You can either massage your own feet, ask a loved one to do it for you, or pay a professional. Experts can also use massages of the back and neck to engage the vagus nerve and calm your body. While it’s a great example of daily vagus nerve exercises, self-administered massage is the quickest option when anxiety symptoms emerge.

Use vagus nerve toning exercises via laughter 

The old cliche of laughter being the best medicine genuinely carries a lot of weight when looking to find relief and restore calm. Therefore, some of the best vagus nerve exercises for anxiety revolve around laughter as this naturally lowers blood pressure(7) and stress.

Laughter can be achieved through watching comedies or doing silly things. Either way, some of the additional rewards include;

Ultimately, we all have unique senses of humor. So, there is no one right way to approach this type of vagus nerve stimulation. However, if you know that you’re entering a potentially anxiety-inducing situation, finding sources of laughter before it could be key.

Cold water therapy vagus nerve healing exercises

When searching for vagus nerve healing exercises, immersing yourself in cold water could be the ideal choice. The diving reflex(8) ensures that submerging your head in water forces bradycardia, apnea, and increased peripheral vascular resistance to occur.

Ultimately, this relaxes the breathing and body to help reduce anxiety (as long as you’re in a controlled situation where you can easily get out) with quick results. Some options include;

The great thing about this option is that you can use different approaches for varying situations. If you can feel anxiety coming on, a cold bath or dip is ideal. Meanwhile, outdoor swims and ice baths may be incorporated as daily vagus nerve exercises.

The final word

When experiencing chronic anxiety, medication and therapy may play key roles in your management strategy. Nevertheless, the body’s responses to stress and anxiety are closely linked to the vagus nerve. When you know how to activate it and restore natural calm to the body, your quality of life will improve.

 

References

1- https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics

2- https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/vagus-nerve

3- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6137615/

4- https://drarielleschwartz.com/the-vagus-nerve-and-eye-movements-tools-for-trauma-recovery-dr-arielle-schwartz/

5- https://www.singwise.com/articles/correct-breathing-and-support-for-singin

6-https://drruscio.com/vagus-nerve-massage/

7- https://www.parashospitals.com/blogs/laughter-help-lower-blood-pressure

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