Stress is an everyday experience. It can be mild or severe. It can be real or perceived. Regardless of the cause, the reaction in our body is always the same. Our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and senses escalate and the digestion stalls. These steps help us to get out of harm’s way. This is the “fight or flight” component of our nervous system. These actions are benign in the short term. However, over time they can lead to anxiety, feeling overwhelmed and disease.
The Vagus nerve is a major component of the nervous system that is responsible for shutting off the stress response. There are a few simple exercises that we can do to engage the Vagus nerve and to take control of reducing our anxiety.
- Hum – The Vagus nerve has motor and sensory neural fibers relating to the larynx, also known as the voice box. These fibers bring information to and back from the larynx. By humming, it awakens the Vagus nerve and encourages the stress-reducing cascade.
- Sing loud – Singing loudly also stimulates the vocal folds in the same manner as humming.
- Gargle – The Vagus nerve has motor and sensory fibers relating to the pharynx, also known as the throat. Gargling water for 30 seconds can exercise the nerve.
- Cold Water – Splashing cold water on the face, taking a cold shower or quickly submerging your face will activate the Vagus nerve.
- Deep Belly Breathing – Slowly inhale through the nose and expand the belly full and large. At the end of the inhale, try to take an additional ‘sniff’ of air. Hold the breath for 3-4 seconds. Slowly exhale through the mouth, making an ‘H’ sound, while deflating the abdomen. At the end of the exhale, force an additional puff of air out. Hold for 3-4 seconds. The Vagus nerve has motor and sensory fibers that line the torso wall. The vibration of the larynx and increased pressure within the chest and abdomen stimulates these fibers and continues the Vagal reaction.
- CST – CranioSacral therapy is sublime at stimulating the Vagus nerve.
Harness your Inner Rockstar and help yourself during periods of stress. It is no wonder why it feels so good to sing!!