Vagus Nerve Exercises to Handle Stress Effectively

The vagus nerve is a complex nerve that runs throughout the body and sends signals to and from different organs and body parts. This nerve can be stimulated through exercise to improve mental health and digestion, reduce anxiety, promote better sleep, and has been shown to decrease migraine symptoms.

Key takeaways:
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    The vagus nerve is a long and complex nerve that runs throughout the body to connect organs and body parts to the brain. This nerve carries many signals to and from the brain to promote well-being.
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    Several beneficial exercises promote vagus nerve stimulation, such as aerobic exercise, meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, cold water immersion, and singing.
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    Non-invasive, vagus nerve stimulation (VNR) devices are proven to promote vagal nerve stimulation. These devices are also shown to improve mental health and overall well-being.
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    Although you cannot rewire your brain with vagus nerve exercises, practicing vagus nerve exercises can likely improve mood, sleep quality, mental health, well-being, and digestion.

What is the vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is one of the body’s longest and most complex nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system. This nerve is a major component of the parasympathetic system responsible for regulating different involuntary functions. It carries sensory and motor signals between the brain and organs, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, liver, and bowels.

The vagus nerve carries the signals, such as pain, pressure, and temperature, to and from the brain and helps the brain monitor and regulate various bodily functions. It also influences these functions by releasing a neurotransmitter that helps control the activity of the organs.

The word “vagus” in Latin means “wandering,” and the vagus nerve is often referred to as the “wandering nerve” in medicine.

Why should you do vagus nerve stimulation exercises?

Vagus nerve stimulation exercises can benefit your overall health and well-being.

  • Better heart health. The vagus nerve influences heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of cardiovascular health. High HRV is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and improved cardiac function. Regular vagus nerve stimulation can promote higher HRV, improving heart health.
  • Enhanced immune function. The vagus nerve plays a part in overall immune function, and stimulating it can help regulate immune response time. This can reduce the risk of autoimmune conditions and faster recovery after an illness.
  • Increased cognitive performance. Vagus nerve stimulation can enhance cognitive function and increase attention and focus. Some individuals report improved memory, concentration, and mental clarity by activating the vagus nerve regularly.

Vagus nerve exercises for anxiety and overall well-being

You can incorporate vagus nerve stimulation into your life in many budget-friendly and fun ways. Each has proven benefits to promote well-being and improved mental health.

Sports exercises

Aerobic exercises such as running, brisk walking, swimming, or biking can stimulate the vagus nerve. These exercises promote the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, including the vagus nerve, which can improve your overall well-being and happiness.

Another form of exercise is yoga. Yoga combines physical postures and breathing control, which can enhance vagus nerve activity. Practicing deep breathing and stretching activates the vagus nerve and promotes relaxation.

Breathing exercises

The vagus nerve is closely linked to the body’s relaxation response. Slow, deep breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote relaxation. This activation, in turn, stimulates the vagus nerve and helps regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion, and can promote better sleep.

Breathing exercises also help to promote diaphragm engagement. When you breathe deeply into the belly, your diaphragm, a muscle in the abdomen, engages fully. This movement stimulates the vagus nerve and helps regulate parasympathetic response.

Cold water immersion

Cold water immersion, such as a cold bath, shower, or ice bath, can promote vagus nerve stimulation and offer many benefits for the body.

Cold water activates cold reflux, a psychological response to cold water. This reflex can decrease the heart rate and blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the organs. This all stimulates the vagus nerve and can minimize anxiety.

Cold water also increases heart rate variability (HRV), improves stress response, and offers anti-inflammatory effects. These processes all stimulate the vagus nerve and offer many beneficial side effects.

If you plan to try cold water immersion, it is best to contact a health care practitioner beforehand, as it can negatively impact some people with underlying health conditions.


Meditation and mindfulness practices help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, including the vagus nerve. Focusing on breathing techniques and sitting quietly can enhance vagus nerve stimulation.

Meditation and mindfulness also promote a practice of body scanning, a practice in which you sit silently and mindfully notice different body parts, starting at the toes. This can take anywhere from five to 30 minutes and can help promote relaxation and stimulate the vagus verve.


Singing, humming, and chanting involve deep breathing and vocalization, known to stimulate the vagus nerve. These activities engage the muscles in the throat and vocal cords, activating the vagus nerve.

Such activities can be done almost anywhere, from a deep yoga Om chant to singing with friends; stimulating the vagus nerve through the vocal cords and throat is a fun and effective way to increase mental well-being.

How else can you stimulate the vagus nerve at home?

Vagus nerve stimulators (VNS) devices are designed to deliver electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve. These devices are typically prescribed by a medical doctor and implanted under the skin's surface to treat conditions such as epilepsy or treatment-resistant depression.

There are, however, great, over-the-counter VNS devices used for relaxation and stress reduction at home; these are called non-invasive DNS devices and can be purchased online or in health and wellness stores.

This non-invasive VNS typically consists of a handheld device that delivers a mild electrical impulse to the vagus nerve through the skin. The Pulsetto device, for example, is weared around the neck. The stimulation is usually delivered through electrodes or pads on the skin’s surface. The device generates electrical impulses to mimic the natural signals transmitted by the vagus nerve.

Non-invasive DNS devices are intended for home use and can help improve stress and relaxation and help with better sleep.

What benefits can you expect when doing vagus nerve exercises?

Many proven benefits from vagal nerve stimulation can be achieved through exercises or non-invasive VNS therapy.

Reduced anxiety

The vagus nerve is a key component in the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation. By engaging the vagus nerve, you can initiate a calming and stress-reducing effect that will help improve mood and anxiety. A number of studies show that stimulating the vagus nerve reduces anxiety and depression symptoms, and this method has even been used in medicine to treat severe depression for those resistant to medications.

Better sleep

Stimulating the vagus nerve has been shown to provide a better night’s sleep by increasing the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with well-being and relaxation. You can improve mood and sleep quality by stimulating the vagus nerve before sleeping. Adding stretching and mindfulness practices before bed can be beneficial to stimulate the vagus nerve and promote a better night's sleep.

Improved digestion

Vagus nerve stimulation can help those with bloating, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The vagus nerve plays a key role in regulating digestion. Vagus nerve stimulation can support the digestive process by increasing gastric acids, which also helps to improve nutrition absorption. Stress plays a large part in elevating symptoms of IBS, and stimulating the vagus nerve to reduce stress and anxiety can substantially reduce symptoms related to digestion.

Migraine relief

Migraines are neurological conditions characterized by severe headaches and are often accompanied by other symptoms such as visual disturbances and sensitivity to light and sound. Vagus nerve exercises and stimulation techniques have shown promise in providing relief for those suffering from migraines by calming the parasympathetic nervous system and decreasing the pain of migraine headaches.

Is it possible to stretch the vagus nerve?

Stretching the vagus nerve directly is not possible because it is a cranial nerve that links the brain to organs and systems of the body. Unlike peripheral nerves, the vagus nerve is not easily accessible for direct stretching. However, some studies indicate activation of the vagus nerve through neck stretching can promote vagus nerve stimulation.

Gentle neck stretching, such as tilting your head to the side, forward and back, slowly and carefully, can promote relaxation and relieve tight muscles causing tension in the neck and shoulders. This can stimulate and relax the vagus nerve.

Can vagus nerve exercises rewire your brain?

Vagus nerve exercises, such as deep breathing, meditation, and other techniques noted above, can stimulate the vagus nerve and profoundly impact well-being. Although you cannot directly “rewire” your brain, stimulating the vagus nerve can significantly impact brain function.

Stimulating the nervous system can promote mental clarity, reduce stress, help with a sense of relaxation, promote better study habits, increase the sense of well-being, and help those with stress and anxiety to become more comfortable in social settings. All of this plays an important role in brain learning and capacity. Although stimulating the vagus nerve may not rewire the brain, it can promote better habits and stimulate creativity and learning.

The vagus nerve is a complex nerve that runs the length of the body and supports a number of bodily functions. It’s beneficial to include vagal nerve exercises into your daily routine to promote an overall sense of well-being and better health. This can be achieved through physical exercise, mindfulness and meditation, cold immersion, breathing exercises, and even singing. There are also beneficial devices, such as the non-invasive VNS device, that can be used at home to promote vagal nerve stimulation quickly and effectively.


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