The Vagus Nerve and Stress
Did you know that when you find yourself freaking out, that your vagus nerve can be your best friend? It’s the major nerve that runs along our spine in our chest and abdomen, and stimulating it can kick-start our parasympathetic nervous system and help us relax.
When life stressors trigger us, our stress hormones (like cortisol) respond to help us. When this happens, we might want to flee the scene (flight), attack by taking it out on others (fight), or take care of things around us and gather social support (tend-and-befriend). To help keep us balanced, the parasympathetic nervous system helps us pause and relax, digest our food, and even allows us to focus on the needs of others when in a stressful situation.
So how do we stimulate the vagus nerve to help our body detox stress?
There are a variety of ways to engage the vagus nerve. Laughing, eating fiber, meditating, and even being cold can do the trick. Here’s a list of 19 other ways to take advantage of the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Deep Breathing for Stress-Relief
While we can eat different things to detox our body (like veggies), take supplements (like chlorella), and do different activities (like sauna), we also need to give our body some time to recover from stress. Deep breathing releases toxins like carbon dioxide from our system; brings nourishing oxygen to our blood, tissues, and organs; and gives us a chance to relax.
My favorite way to start relaxing whether I’m in a stressful situation or ready to start my weekend is to stimulate the vagus nerve through deep breathing. Diaphragmatic breaths can be done anytime and anywhere, even in public spaces in broad daylight.
Here are a few easy steps to help you get started:
- Sit, stand, or lie down with your knees bent. Put one hand on your chest and your other hand a few inches lower, just below your ribs.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose and keep your chest in the same place while your belly pushes your lower hand out.
- Exhale slowly and deeply through pursed lips or a slightly open mouth, and notice your lower hand going down. Then use that hand to gently push out all the air.
- Do these 3 steps at least 3 times or up to 10 minutes, and take your time. Rushing through this will defeat the purpose.
What About You?
Have you tried deep breathing before? Are there other things that you do for stress relief, like listening to good music, going for a long run, or meeting a friend for lunch? I would love to hear what you have to say in our comment section. Please inspire each other!
As a registered Naturopathic Doctor in the state of Colorado, I specialize in addressing the underlying issues related to thyroid, autoimmunity, digestion, chronic congestion, and adult acne. If you’re interested in working with me, schedule a free “Is this a good fit?” office or phone consult so that you can find out how I can help you.