Vagus Nerve Stimulation: Coping with Stress and Anxiety

Are you suffering from the 21st Century’s silent killer? With financial worries, climate concerns, and global security becoming ever more prevalent, one thing is for sure: We are all feeling more stressed than ever.

Key takeaways:
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    The vagus is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system, and the most complex of the cranial nerves, connecting the brain to every internal organ.
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    It is the key to effectively dealing with stress and anxiety. The stronger your vagus response, the more likely you can recover quickly from stressful events.
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    You can unlock the vagus nerve through various exercises, such as meditation and acupuncture, or alternative ways like breathing exercises, neck and jaw release techniques, and cold water treatments.

Stress and anxiety

Studies show that eight out of ten people are suffering from extreme stress and a third of the population have high anxiety levels, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. Stress grows every day, and no one is immune. Even worse, it also impacts your sleep.

Are you feeling tired, weary, or more lethargic than before? Do you struggle to focus at work? Forty-eight percent of the population have problems sleeping. The perpetrator? Stress and anxiety.

What if there was a way to combat it? Something safe, tested, and not involving medication. The last thing we need is more pills. The key to a calmer future lies in a secret solution from the past: Vagus Nerve Stimulation.

What is the vagus nerve?

Named after the Latin word for “wandering,” it originates in the brain, travels by the ear, and moves on to every major organ in your body. The vagus nerve controls a vast range of functions and communicates sensory information between the brain and the organs. The stronger your vagus response, the more likely your ability to recover quickly from stressful events.

The Vagus is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system and the most complex of the cranial nerves. Think of it as a massive, meandering network of over 100,000 fibers. It is the body’s superhighway, connecting the brain to every internal organ. The chemicals it releases, acetylcholine, regulate and balance blood pressure, heart rate, glucose, and digestion.

Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is an alternative to meditation and prescribed medication. It tells your body to slow down, take deep breaths, and, most importantly – relax. It will conserve your energy and slow your heart rate. The cumulative, long-term effects lead to improved sleep length and quality, improved mood, lowered anxiety, and increased resilience to stress.

Benefits of vagus nerve stimulation

VNS is the key to effectively dealing with stress and anxiety. The science behind it is old, but there is now a new approach. For over 30 years, medical professionals have treated epilepsy and depression by using implants to stimulate the vagus nerve, and acupuncture has been stimulating it for far longer. But studies now show that simple, non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation (nVNS) has the same results.

Stimulation of the nerve has a positive effect on mood and overall well-being, as well as positive results in the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders. Science shows that VNS has a positive effect on heart rate variability (HRV), a key factor in psychological well-being and quality of life.

Research shows the positive relationship the vagus nerve has on the following:

  • Gut-brain axis support. The vagus nerve is vital in the control of inflammation as well as the management of food intake and satiety.
  • Regulating blood pressure and heart rate. The parasympathetic side decreases blood pressure, and heart rate, helping with calmness, relaxation, and digestion.
  • Helps with head pain. Non-invasive vagus nerve stimulation also demonstrated efficacy for acute migraine or cluster headache attacks.
  • Reduces inflammation. Electrical activation of the vagus nerve can improve acute and chronic inflammation.

And what about your sleep? Stimulating the vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the essential element for rest, digestion, restoration, and relaxation. This makes you calmer, less stressed, and less anxious and results in far better sleep. A better night leads to a better day.

How do you stimulate it?

The secrets of the vagus nerve have been known for centuries, and while it can be stimulated by meditation or acupuncture, it takes time to master and involves some effort. Fortunately, there are some other options:

There are areas where this nerve is very active, such as the ear, jaw, and neck region near the carotid sinus, better known as the sleep artery.

With that in mind, here are alternative ways to stimulate the vagus nerve:

  • Make a humming sound.
  • Cold-water treatments, such as putting cold water on the face and neck region.
  • Any breathing exercise involving breaths through your nose, like the Box breathing technique.
  • Neck and jaw release exercises.
  • The Valsalva maneuver requires breathing in, pinching the nose, and trying to breathe out for 10 seconds with the nose pinched.
  • Dr. Stanley Rosenberg's vagus nerve activation exercise.

Vagus nerve activation induces saliva in your mouth and yawning, so if you experience either of these following a technique, it's a sign that it's working.

Vagus nerve stimulation continues to be investigated by science and new electrostimulation startups. More new companies are creating non-invasive vagus nerve stimulators based on specific neuromodulation signals, electric signals with a specific voltage, amplitude, and pulse, that create a tingling effect on your skin. Soon, we will see safe, easy, and fast ways for people to activate and stimulate their vagus nerve with some wearable devices and gadgets.

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