8 Ways To Relieve Stress And Anxiety
Our nervous system plays a vital role in regulating our hormones, our emotions, and basically all other vital systems in our body. When the autonomic nervous system is functioning well, the sympathetic and parasympathetic subdivisions work together to create balance. When we encounter a stressful situation, the sympathetic kicks in, signaling a state of crisis and the need to “fight or flee” (evolutionarily speaking) releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. Once the stress subsides, the parasympathetic kicks in to help the body return to its natural state of rest and calm. When we find ourselves chronically stressed (hello 2020) and we don’t complete the stress cycle allowing our body to regain homeostasis, it can lead to other bodily dysfunctions i.e. if our brains are constantly prioritizing survival, then it can’t prioritize other vital functions, like regulating our digestion and breathing to name a few.
Enter the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the 10th cranial nerve and the longest nerve in body. It get its name from the term “wanderer” in Latin because it runs from the base of the skull, around both sides of the neck, and ventures down to many organs including the lungs, heart, stomach, and intestines. This nerve has a direct relationship to the PNS or parasympathetic nervous system. So, when the ventral vagal nerve is firing, it literally sends signals down to your organs to assume their proper and optimal function. The higher your vagal tone (activity), the faster your body will be able to relax after a stressful situation and return to normal functioning. However, when we find ourselves chronically stressed and our vagal tone is low, we may need to find ways to stimulate this nerve to help us get back to a normal state of calm. Here are 9 ways to “trick” your body into relaxation mode by stimulating the vagus nerve.
Cold exposure: Researchers have found that exposing yourself to cold on a regular basis can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve. Try sticking your face in a bowl of ice cold water or finish your regular shower with 30-60 seconds of cold water.
Diaphragmatic breathing: Stress breathing happens when we overuse the accessory breathing muscles of our upper body to take big inhales expanding our chest more than we expand our abdomen. Using the full capacity of the diaphragm to manage our intra abdominal pressure, however, will not only help our core function better, but it will signal our brain into “rest and digest” mode. Prioritize longer exhales over inhales. There is a full diaphragmatic breathing tutorial in the FAQ section on KORE | KINECT.
Singing humming chanting and gargling: Ever wonder why singing at the top of your lungs feels so freeing and therapeutic? The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal chords and the muscles at the back of your throat so we can stimulate it through vibration of that area. You can also try gargling or gagging yourself with a toothbrush (only touch the back of the tongue and avoid touching the uvula or adenoids).
Meditation: Prayer and meditation have been found to reduce the sympathetic nervous system and produce positive emotions improving vagal tone.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3s are essential fats that the body cannot produce on its own. These fats are essential for good brain and nervous system function.
Exercise: Workouts like KORE | KINECT that prioritize mind/ muscle connection can offer a form of somatic therapy to help the body release emotions that have been stored as physical tension in the body. This can help heal past trauma and send signals of safety to the subconscious mind. The better your proprioception and body awareness, the better you can provoke these somatic experiences.
Massage SCM muscle in neck: The deep cervical fascia of the sternocleidomastoid’s inner interface forms part of the carotid sheath, which surrounds the vagus nerve. Massaging this muscle which runs from the base of the skull and down either side of the neck can help stimulate this nerve and the PNS.
Laughing: Laughing has been shown to reduce the body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol. It really is the best medicine.
Our brain and bodies talk to each other through our nervous system and the higher your vagal tone, the more likely you will be able to complete the stress cycle and become more resilient to it when it shows up in your life. I hope you can implement some of these simple steps into your routine and pray they allow you to live a more optimal existence free of anxiety and stress.