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How to Activate Your Vagus Nerve for Anxiety Relief

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3D illustration showing brain and active vagus nerve with text "vagus nerve stimulation for anxiety relief" below it

During times of high stress, we activate our fight-or-flight response. This gets the body ready to either fight or flee. Unfortunately, during periods of chronic stress, we have trouble turning off this response which can lead to frequent anxiety, panic attacks, or both.

Fortunately, our vagus nerve system, a nerve that connects the brain to the body, can shut off this flight-or-fight response. There are many things that can stimulate the vagus nerve and below are a few that you can try.

vagus nerve illustration

1. Deep and Slow Breathing

In order to stimulate the vagus nerve, do some belly breathing. Try to make it slow enough so that you end up taking no more than six breaths per minute.

Some people recommend breathing in for five seconds and then breathing out for another five. Others recommend a longer exhale. For example, breathe in for four seconds and then exhale for six (or even eight). See what works for you. 

2. Singing, Humming, or Chanting

Since the vagus nerve is connected to the larynx, singing, humming, and chanting can all activate your vagus nerve. 

3. Cold Exposure

Another way to activate your vagus nerve is by exposing yourself to cold temperatures on a regular basis. Some people choose to take cold showers, go outside in cold temperatures with minimal clothing, or wash their face with cold water. 

If you have cardiovascular issues or are at risk, you should check with your doctor first before taking a cold shower or diving into very cold water.

4. Meditation

This relaxation technique can stimulate the vagus nerve, and increase vagal tone and positive emotions. If you’re a fan of guided meditation, check out some of my favorite ones in this article

5. Probiotics

Because of the gut-mind connection, ingestion of probiotics might help stimulate the vagus nerve and thus lower your anxiety/stress levels.  

6. Social Connection

Hanging out with family and friends can also stimulate your vagus nerve. Obviously pick those who make you feel better, not worse. 

7. Laughter

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “laughter is the best medicine”. There may be some truth to it! Laughing may stimulate the vagus nerve and have other health benefits, so go ahead and watch that comedy or get together with some friends who make you laugh.

8. Massage

Pressure massage and reflexology are two great ways to activate your vagus nerve. 

Other things might stimulate the vagus nerve:

  • Gargling
  • Yoga
  • EFT Tapping
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Laying on your right side
  • Acupuncture
  • Tai Chi
  • Prayer
  • Anti-inflammatory diet
  • Red light therapy

Want to learn more?

Books I recommend: 

Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Anxiety Relief


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