One of the things that happens with anxiety is that your body’s autonomic nervous system gets out of balance. Your nervous system has 2 main parts: sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which are designed to balance each other.
Your sympathetic nervous system regulates your “Get Up and Go” energy and your “Fight or Flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the restorative counterpart – the part that allows you to relax, “rest and digest,” and calm your mind and body.
Anxiety = Nervous System Imbalance
Anxiety results in imbalance. The sympathetic nervous system becomes overactive, keeping you in an overly heightened state of stress both physically and emotionally. And the imbalance is also felt in the parasympathetic nervous system which becomes underactive, unable to restore you to a calmer state.
Anxiety management tools and techniques like Mindful Belly Breathing, meditation and relaxing music are all designed to build up the parasympathetic nervous system while therefore calming the sympathetic nervous system.
Meet the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve that originates in the midbrain. It is connected to every internal organ in your body, including the immune system. Activating the vagus nerve is the most powerful way of inducing a relaxation response to counteract the fight or flight state.
Also referred to as the vagal nerves, this is the main part of your parasympathetic nervous system. As such, the vagus nerve helps calm anxiety by inducing your body’s relaxation response, slowing your heart rate, and lowering blood pressure.
Breathing for Vagus Nerve
Research suggests we can induce this relaxation response of the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system through various breathing exercises:
1. Most recommended is Mindful Belly Breathing. Click HERE for my FREE guided meditation for Mindful Belly Breathing for stress and anxiety.
2. Roof of the mouth breathing at bedtime: Stimulating the vagus nerve right before bed also helps your body relax more during sleep and therefore reduce tension and grinding in the jaw. Close your eyes, suction your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe in and out through your nose for 5 minutes, without holding your breath.
3. Alternate nostril breathing. Click HERE for instructions.
10 Calming Activities for the Vagus Nerve
1. Splash cold water on your face when you first get up in the morning for 2 minutes. Bonus activity: take a cold shower! While your body adjusts to the cold, sympathetic activity declines, while parasympathetic activity increases.
2. Sing or Hum for 2-5 minutes a day. This stimulates the 7th cranial nerve at the back of the throat, which is close to the vagus nerve.
3. Chant OM for 2-5 minutes.
4. Gargle with water for 5 minutes until your eyes tear.
5. Sitting posture: Sit up with your back straight. Put your left hand on top of your head. Move your head so your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. Now shift your eyes to gaze up and to the right. Hold for 30+ seconds. Repeat on right side.
6. Increase Salivation: Sit in a relaxed position and imagine a juicy lemon in your mouth. Allow your mouth to create extra saliva and then rest your tongue in this saliva bath.
7. Certain relaxing pitches of quiet music stimulate the 8th cranial nerve, which is near the vagus nerve. THIS SONG was developed with sound therapists and is touted as the most relaxing of all time.
9. Visualization. Click HERE to try my FREE guided visualization.
10. Slow-movement martial arts (like Tai Chi)