How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve to Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety by the sea
Photo by Cosiela Borta on Unsplash

Anxiety has become a hot topic in the wellness corners of social media over the last few years, and we have to admit that we’re happy to see what was once a highly sensitive subject starting to become destigmatized. Feelings of anxiety are something that almost everyone will experience at some point in life, but there are certain practices that can make them easier to manage. Stimulating the vagus nerve, in particular, activates the parasympathetic nervous system and is one of the most effective ways to bring the mind and body back into balance. Read on to learn more about a few different vagus nerve stimulation techniques.

Deep Breathing

Taking slow, deep breaths causes your diaphragm to move rhythmically, massaging the vagus nerve and sending a message to your body that it’s safe to relax. Practice by inhaling deeply through your nose for a count of four, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling through your mouth for a count of eight. If these times feel like too much of a challenge, simply focus on extending the length of your exhales so that they’re longer than your inhales. Repeat this cycle 4-8 times. 

Physical Activity

Exercise, especially activities like yoga or tai chi that incorporate deep breathing, encourages better vagal tone and can help move the nervous system from a sympathetic fight-or-flight state toward the parasympathetic rest-and-digest. You don’t have to work up a sweat to reap the benefits—even passive asanas such as Child’s Pose or Happy Baby are enough. 

Cold Exposure

This one is a bit more controversial, and it should definitely be practiced with a healthy dose of caution, but research does show that exposing yourself to a few minutes of cold is an effective way to stimulate the vagus nerve. If you’re up for it, try ending your daily shower with a few seconds of cold water, or use a cold compress on your face as a gentler, more contained option.