6 Tips on How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health
The vagus nerve is part of your autonomic nervous system and is a massively important nerve. It carries an extensive range of signals and is responsible for several internal organ functions, the four key functions are:
- Special sensory – controls the taste sensation behind the tongue
- Motor – Provides movement for the muscles in the neck that are responsible for swallowing and speech
- Sensory – Includes the heart, lungs, throat and abdomen
- Parasympathetic – Controls the digestive tract, respiration, and heart rate
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve, running from the brain stem to part of the colon, which is why it affects so many functions of the body.
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve system acts to counterbalance our fight or flight system and trigger a relaxation response in our body. If you’re trying to figure out how to stimulate the vagus nerve for mental health improvements, a better immune system or overall health, there are a few ways of doing this.
Breathing is vitally essential to our lives and the vagus nerve is responsible for helping the lungs to fill up fully and to relax. Some specific breathing exercises can help to bring the vagus nerve back into balance. The moment we begin to feel stress, we may tend to stop breathing or hold our breath. Breath holding activates the fight or flight response. Box breathing may help with this.
- Begin by breathing out slowly, releasing all the air in your lungs
- Breathe in through your nose and slowly count to four in your head, be mindful of the air filling your body
- Hold your breath for four seconds
- Exhale for four seconds
- Hold your breath for another four seconds
- Repeat this process four times
It may be difficult at first to keep your breaths steady, but with more practice your body will become accustomed to it. This engages your diaphragm and your lungs in helping to breathe, which is important because that vagus nerve controls the diaphragm as well as the esophagus and airways.
Food for the Vagus Nerve
For many people this is one of the most challenging and overwhelming parts of managing and balancing the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve can become off balance and it controls a lot of digestive function, which can lead to bacteria growing in the digestive system. There are a few foods that can help ensure your vagus nerve stays healthy.
- Fish – Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids which are valuable to the body as well as the cardiovascular system. It could also help with vagus nerve function as it lowers the heart rate and supports circulation.
- Probiotics – Probiotics are known to encourage a healthy gut and digestive tract, which in turn aids the vagus nerve function. Probiotics can be taken in pill form but can also be found in some foods like fruit and yogurt.
- Leafy Greens – Especially spinach and kale, which are high in amino acids that your body needs to support the inflammatory response within the gut, which will allow for the vagus nerve to function better.
- Zinc- Poultry is a good source of zinc, as well as things like chickpeas and almonds. Zinc will also allow your vagus nerve to function better.
Proper nutrition to reduce inflammation and maintaining the best balance within the gut can allow the vagus nerve to get back to what it needs to do.
Laughter sometimes is the best medicine, and it’s no different when learning how to stimulate the vagus nerve. Laughter causes the stomach muscles to contract, which may also stimulate the vagus nerve. There have been many studies that show laughter can help balance out your life and cause your body to start healing and rejuvenating.
Something calming and easy that’s not vigorous, like taking a walk, is a great way to destress and also help your vagus nerve. People who engage in regular walks see a significant reduction in anxiety and perceived stress, as well as a better overall mood and physical health.
There has been a lot of research that suggests the psychological benefits of meditation may be linked to the functioning of the vagus nerve. It can help with decreasing aggression, depression, and anxiety as well as promote overall better moods while giving off a calming, relaxed feeling.
Whatever meditation works best for you is the best kind to do – some like a guided meditation, while others prefer to focus on the breath. The key is finding a meditation practice that works for you, and there are many resources for you to use such as apps specifically designed to help get you into meditation. Additionally, with meditation making a noise or an ‘arm’ or a ‘mmm’ really helps with stimulating the vagus nerve.
On to our super-secret final tip for how to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is one that most people don’t think about in terms of managing and balancing the vagus nerve and it has to do with your posture and your spine. The vagus nerves come out of the brain stem which actually come out, typically, in the cervical spine. It then goes to all the other destinations that it needs to go to.
So, if your cervical spine, or your spine at all, winds up being stretched or in the wrong position, it can cause the vagus nerve to malfunction. If you have been having difficulty with your vagus nerve and the above tips have not helped, your spine may be the reason.
How a Chiropractor Can Help with Vagus Nerve Health
A corrective chiropractor will work to measure your spine to know if it’s in a normal position or an abnormal position. If the spinal cord is in a wrong position, or abnormal position, it’s going to put tension on that spinal cord, which means all of the breathing exercises, nutrition, exercise and meditation is not going to help until we take the pressure off of the spinal cord.
We offer an in-depth exam to determine exactly what we can do to help with as much detail for you as possible. It is called the 3-Dimensional BioStructural Analysis, and the process involves the following:
- Timeline history
- Digital posture exam
- 3-Dimensional posture exam
- Chiropractic, Neurological, and Physical Exam
- Spinal radiographs (if needed)
- Digital biomechanical analysis of your spine
- Insurance verification (by our insurance team)
- Separate time to go over the results of your test within a day or two, where we will go over:
- What is going on
- If we can help
- What the best next step is for you
- Any investment in your health that is necessary
If you’re interested, you can schedule an appointment for a 3-Dimensional BioStructural Analysis here. If you’d like tips on how you can stay healthy and well without drugs and surgery, go ahead and check out other articles on this site. If you continue to struggle with vagus nerve health or want more information on how to stimulate the vagus nerve, give us a call at Align Wellness Center (847) 860-6599 or schedule an appointment online. Contact us today or stop by the office. We’re located at 900 Skokie Blvd., Suite 113, Northbrook, IL, 60062.