Want to be able to cut the front of the line and immediately get the attention of your calming rock star? Want a VIP pass with your nervous system for those times you are about to lose it? It is yours for the taking and it comes in the form of your vagus nerve.
Your vagus nerve is responsible for your ‘rest and digest’ functions of your nervous system (aka calming down). To some degree, you are genetically predisposed to varying levels of vagal tone (receptivity), but this still doesn’t mean that you can’t change it.
Here are 5 ways to increase the receptivity or tone the vagus nerve:
- Slow, rhythmic, diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing from your diaphragm (you can think of it like breathing from your belly), rather than shallowly from the top of the lungs stimulates and tones the vagus nerve. Make a plan to do this slow, rhythmic belly breathing a few times a day for a couple minutes each. Celebrate! It’s not like we need to run miles each day. Deep, slow breathing is totally doable!
- Humming and Speaking. Since the vagus nerve is connected to the vocal cords, humming mechanically or talking stimulates it. You can hum a song, talk with your co-worker, or even better repeat the sound ‘OM.’
- Washing your face with cold water. The mechanism here is not known, but cold water on your face stimulates the vagus nerve. This is totally NOT what you feel like doing when you are getting that ‘ramping up’ anxiety feeling, but next time you do give this a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
- Meditation. Loving kindness meditation promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others. A 2010 study by Barbara Fredrickson and Bethany Kik found that increasing positive emotions led to increased social closeness and an improvement in vagal tone. Again, the mechanics aren’t quite known but this one is too good and easy to pass up.
- Balancing the gut microbiome. The presence of healthy bacteria in the gut creates a positive feedback loop through the vagus nerve, increasing its tone. Yes, your gut bacteria are finally getting their fifteen minutes of fame! It may seem like the trendy health topic of the day but more and more research is backing up the mind-body connection theory that has been around for a long time.
Toning your vagus nerve sounds funny, I know. Sorta kinky even. However, the vagus nerve holds one of the most easily accessed keys to creating the calmer new you in 2018. What have you got to lose?
I’d love to hear how they work for you!