If you’ve been dealing with stress, anxiety, heart palpitations, difficulties sleeping, and if you feel like you’ve tried supplements, medications, and even dietary changes without success, assessing vagus nerve tone should be at the top of your priority list.
The job of the vagus nerve is to shift your autonomic nervous system out of sympathetic overdrive, associated with fight/ flight/ freeze, into a parasympathetic state, causing calm and relaxation. If your nerve is underactive, addressing this may help to get you the results you need.
You are going to walk away from this article knowing:
- What is the vagus nerve and how does it relate to stress?
- How does the vagus nerve work?
- How to facilitate healing.
I’ll also teach you how you can learn:
- How do I know if my vagus nerve is not working properly?
- How do I measure my vagal tone?
- How to increase the nerves function.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve is your 10th cranial nerve (CNX), it originates from the brain stem and is the longest nerve in your body, which meanders down through your neck, into the thorax, and down to the abdomen, with branches extending out to your organs.
The word “vagus” in Latin means “wandering” and its meandering path is why it is often referred to as the “wanderer nerve.”
While this nerve is deep in your body during the majority of its path, it does travel just inside of the bowl of your ear, and down your neck (along your carotid artery). We’ll talk about that more, in a little while.
What Does The Vagus Nerve Do?
My function’s almost anything, and vagus is my name.
The vagus nerve is responsible for regulating your heart, respiration, organ function and much more, but what’s even more important is that the nerve serves a crucial role in regulating your nervous system.
If you struggle with stress, overwhelm, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, heart palpitations, digestive upset, and difficulties with sleep, it’s time to enlist support from your 10th cranial nerve.
The vagus nerve regulates your nervous system in 5 primary ways:
- Nervous System Reset: Activation of this nerve serves as one of the most powerful reset switches you have in terms of shifting you out of a high-stress state into one that is calm and relaxed.
- Gut-Brain Communication: The nerve facilitates communication between the brain and gut. By sending stress signals from the gut to the brain, the vagus nerve can carry anxiety or fear in what we refer to as our “gut feeling,” and it can also carry relaxing messages to the brain.
- Reducing Inflammation: Inflammation is one of the key causes of anxiety and depression and while an anti-inflammatory diet, anti-inflammatory supplements, and detoxification offer profound benefits, if your vagus nerve is not on board, your results may be palliative at best. If the vagus nerve is under-active you will likely experience higher levels of inflammation. When stimulated, the nerve sends anti-inflammatory signals to other parts of the body reducing anxiety, depression, and results in overall health improvements.
- Regulates your Vitals: The autonomic nervous system is regulated, in part, by your vagus nerve. When your nervous system shifts into a state of what is called sympathetic activation, your heart rate goes up, and that causes a cascade of chemical changes that put you more into fight-flight-freeze. When the vagus nerve is activated, your body shifts into a relaxed state called parasympathetic activation, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to go back down. This results in less stress, and more calm.
Increases Neural plasticity: The vagus nerve is a key contributor to neural plasticity, promoting growth, change and healing of the brain, as well as storing and retrieving memories and promoting concentration and focus.
Vagus Nerve Healing 101: How does it impact my stress?
The number one gatekeeper to your stress is the vagus nerve. The nerve relays stress signals to and from the brain, and by increasing the tone and activity of your nerve you can learn to shift out of anxiety, stress and overwhelm, into calm, peace and relaxation.
Clinical research has shown that vagus nerve stimulation works. In fact, vagus nerve stimulation devices have been an FDA-approved therapy since 2005, in the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders.
But what’s even more exciting, is that you can begin healing work on your vagus nerve from the comfort of your own home.
Through extensive research, I have identified 15 easy ways to activate the vagus nerve. Today, you’re going to learn my favorite 3 vagus nerve healing tips.
Top 3 Tips for Stimulating Your Vagus Nerve
- 4-count square breath: Stimulation of the diaphragm is a way to activate the nerve to help both adults and children with anxiety. Here’s how: Draw your breath in and down to your diaphragm slowly for 4 counts, hold for four counts, exhale for 4 counts and then hold for 4 counts (see video demonstration).
- Cold water on face: Cold water, or a cold pack applied to your face, especially the area around the eyes has been shown to evoke something called the Dive Reflex. This stimulates the nerve and your heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature will all slow down or reduce which can cause symptoms of relaxation and calm.
- Essential oils: You can stimulate your vagus nerve by applying essential oils to the bowl of your ear. Make sure to not put oil IN your ear canal.
How to Facilitate Healing
It is well established that your vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves in your body as it relates to your mental health.
Let’s get started:
It’s time to assess your “vagal tone.” If you’re wondering “what is vagal tone?” You’re in good company.
Vagal tone is essentially an internal biological process that represents the ability of the 10th cranial nerve to regulate your nervous system.
More vagal tone means more capacity for you to regulate stress, whereas less vagal tone means you have less capacity to deal with stress.
Here’s an example from one of graduates from The Anxiety Breakthrough Program:
“I often felt like I had no control over my body. Sometimes I would get anxiety out of the blue, other times I’d overreact to feeling overwhelmed. I knew I had to make a change after I had a panic attack on the highway while on my way to meet a new client. The anxiety was so bad, I got tunnel vision and had to pull to the side of the road. I sat there frozen, not knowing what to do and ended up missing my meeting and losing that lead.
My life was changed the day I learned about the three parts of the brain and how they all play a role in anxiety. I knew that anxiety wasn’t logical, but what I didn’t know was how to work with my body to make panic stop. Now I do, and that’s been the best gift I could have ever received.”
If you have more vagal tone you will benefit from more relaxation efficiency, and overall better health with reduced risk of stroke, better blood sugar control, more optimal digestion, increased longevity and emotional resilience and stability. If you have less vagal tone, you are at a higher risk of greater nervous system stress, mood instability, poor blood sugar control, chronic fatigue, brain fog, high inflammation, higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease and less heart rate variability.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational video e-courses, books, and exclusive free Facebook group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.