Do you know that 4 out of 5 people who suffer from migraines say it is due to stress?
And it is not only migraines that stress can cause. You may suffer from anxiety, depression, muscular pain, or digestive issues. Your body’s natural stress response, aka fight-or-flight, may be permanently activated.
How would you feel if your tension headaches, migraines, and stress could go away? And all you had to do is to stimulate your vagus nerve!
Read on to learn what the vagus nerve is, how it affects the body, what the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation are, and the different ways you can stimulate the nerve to promote relaxation.
What is Vagus Nerve?
Vagus Nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It is also the most complex of all the other cranial nerves. The vagus nerve starts in the brain and runs through the face, neck, chest, and abdomen.
It is an important part of the communication between the body and the brain. It delivers messages from the digestive system, heart, liver, and lungs to the brain. The vagus nerve also plays a role in controlling some of your involuntary motor and sensory functions such as speech, mood, or heart rate.
The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is one of the two branches of the central nervous system. It controls the rest and digest response.
The sympathetic nervous system, the second branch of the central nervous system, is dominant during the stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response. It is activated each time when you are under stress.
Your body produces adrenaline and cortisol, two major stress hormones, during the stress response. Those hormones impact your biochemistry. In long term, they can cause damage to your mental and physical health.
And if you live in a constant state of stress, your vagus nerve may lose its ability to perform its function.
How Vagus Nerve Affects the Body
In a nutshell, the vagus nerve triggers the body’s relaxation response. The system works as a shield against the fight-or-flight response.
The vagus nerve runs through several major organs, and it is involved in functions such as speech, swallowing, taste, digestion, heart rate, and excretion.
Vagus nerve takes part in releasing a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine to facilitate healthy blood pressure, blood glucose balance, optimal kidney functions, and female fertility to name a few.
But vagus nerve is also involved in hormone distribution throughout the body. The vagus nerve is pivotal to the release of hormones such as oxytocin and testosterone. It helps to facilitate insulin distribution, thyroid hormone, T3 increase, production of one of the appetite hormones, ghrelin, and vitamin D3 conversion.
The vagus nerve can impact mental health, too. The vagus nerve plays role in your emotional state, and if you have a positive or negative outlook on life. It also helps with strengthening social connections.
If your vagus nerve is compromised you may suffer from depression, anxiety, and a high level of stress. In addition, you may experience digestive issues, or even have a heart attack or a stroke.
Benefits of Stimulating the Nerve
You can see how important the optimal health of your vagus nerve is. If it is out of balance, your physical and mental health may be at risk. That is why stimulating your vagus nerve can help to improve its function.
Outside of relaxation, other benefits of stimulating the vagus nerve are:
- Minimalize headaches and migraines
- Reduce inflammation in the body
- Balance emotions
- Decrease blood pressure
- Lower heart rate
- Reduce symptoms of chronic depression
- Boost immune system
- Treat epilepsy
However, when your vagus nerve functions properly, you can respond to other mental or physical challenges in a more optimal way.
What Is Vagus Nerve Stimulation?
If you suspect that your vagus nerve doesn’t function as it should, you may want to perform nerve exercises to stimulate it. This can be done by using holistic approaches as well as surgery or by trying Vagus Nerve Stimulator tools.
Breathing and Meditation
The easiest way to stimulate your vagus nerve is through breathing. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is often part of meditation or yoga. It focuses on inhaling long, deep breaths using your abdominal muscles.
When you are in a state of stress, your breath tends to be shallow. And if you experience an anxiety incident, you may even hold your breath. In that fight-or-flight response moment, you can experience fear, body stiffness, or physical pain.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing will help you to slow your heart rate and improve your lungs’ capacity. It will also assist with delivering fresh oxygen into your brain.
Because humans can focus on only one thing at a time, when you shift your focus on breathing, you are not concentrating on the stress response anymore. This means you will move away from the perceived danger and into a safe space.
In addition, meditation helps to boost your mood and promote feelings of love. Both play role in controling the nervous system.
There are hundreds of benefits of exercising, but exercising is pivotal in vagal stimulation. You can engage in moderate intensity training, endurance training, or practice Tai Chi.
Exercise will help you to regulate your heart rate. You either practice Tai Chi or Yoga and lower your heart rate or perform high-intensity activities and increase your heart rate. In both situations, your cardiovascular health will benefit.
Exercise will also manage your respiratory functions, ensuring that you deliver fresh oxygen and that your breath is more consistent.
Endorphins, called natural pain killers, are released during exercising. They improve mood and enhance relaxation, as well as help reduce cortisol levels.
Vagus nerve functions are enhanced thanks to exercising because the balance between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system is restored.
Massage is one of the best stress management techniques you can try for vagal stimulation. It not only promotes physical health but also boosts your mental health.
Massage helps to reduce stress, lower the stress hormone cortisol, decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve circulation and lymphatic drainage, reduce muscle tension and headache, and pain in the body as well as boost the immune system and digestion.
Thanks to all those benefits, massage is perfect for vagus nerve stimulation. Reflexology, a type of massage that focuses on feet, is particularly recommended.
There are over 7ooo nerve endings located in your feet, therefore reflexology stimulates the nerves improving their communication and activates the parasympathetic nervous system further promoting relaxation.
Music therapy can help with vagal stimulation in two ways. The vagus nerve can be either stimulated when you listen to music or when you sing.
Listening to music can have a relaxing effect, especially if you listen to soothing music. But music can energize you. You may even start dancing to your favorite song, getting some exercise at the same time.
Calm music, where chanting or humming is present, can cause vibrations in your body stimulating your vagus nerve.
Part of the vagus nerve system is the larynx, therefore any activities that engage the larynx will stimulate the vagus nerve, too. You can try singing, talking, or gargling activating your vocal cords and your gag reflux respectively.
Colder temperature activates the parasympathetic nervous system, further stimulating the vagus nerve. Therefore, delivering colder temperatures to your body will be beneficial.
You can either immerse yourself in cold water, the way many well-known athletes do, or you can have a cold shower. If this seems too much, you can drink cold water, splash cold water on your face or put an ice pack on your neck.
Cold-water immersions also help to lower stress levels and to slow heart rate and to deliver more fresh blood to the brain.
Because vagus nerve functions are extended to digestion, food plays an important role in vagal stimulation. You can either stimulate it through diet or by engaging organs of the digestive system.
Having a healthy diet will ensure your optimal health, however, adding certain types of food can help the vagus nerve performs its functions efficiently.
It is recommended to add fiber into the diet because fiber increases GLP-1 hormone by supporting the communication between the brain and vagus nerve. Additionally, seafood contains EPA and DHA which help the vagus nerve with heart rate regulation.
The Vagus nerve needs zinc to function properly. If your diet doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of this mineral, consider adding a supplement.
There are many schools of thought on intermittent fasting, however, it can help with vagus nerve functions. During fasting, you consume fewer calories, and your metabolism changes. This will trigger the vagus nerve stimulation.
Because there is a close link between the health of the vagus nerve and your gut, adding a probiotic is also a good option. Taking healthy probiotics will improve your gut health and optimize the function of the vagus nerve.
In addition, the vagus nerve stimulation can also be delivered by activating certain muscles and organs. For example, chewing gum will produce extra saliva and reduce heartburn and reflux. Coughing and contracting stomach muscles will improve bowel movement and activate the vagus nerve.
It is most likely not a surprise that laughter can also help with vagus nerve stimulation. Laughter helps to trigger the relaxation response in your body. It simply activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
But laughter also sparks diaphragmatic breathing, regulates heart rate variability, and promotes positive emotions.
There are also many tools you can use to stimulate the vagus nerve. Some of the tools are invasive and require surgery, while others such as GammaCore Sapphire, are non-invasive.
Invasive vagus nerve stimulation requires a pulse generator to be implanted via surgery. The device delivers electric pulses to the vagus nerve stimulating it.
This type of invasive VNS is mostly performed in cases of epilepsy, chronic depression, or gastrointestinal disorders.
Although invasive vagus nerve stimulation is considered safe, there are several risks involved. You may feel pain in your body where the pulse generator was inserted. You may have some vocal cord paralysis, difficulty swallowing, or even be at risk of infection.
It is no wonder that non-invasive tools have increased in popularity.
Vagus Nerve Stimulators, such as GammaCore Sapphire, can be a great alternative to surgery. GammaCore Sapphire is the first and only FDA approved non-invasive tool.
GammaCore Sapphire stimulates the vagus nerve by gentle electrical stimulation delivered through the skin. It is easy and safe to use.
It helps with migraines, and cluster headaches as well as with Hemicrania Continua (HC) & Paroxysmal Hemicrania (PH) conditions.
How to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves and is part of your parasympathetic nervous system. The PNS is responsible for your rest and digest response.
The vagus nerve triggers your relaxation response. It is involved in many functions in the body including speech, swallowing, digestion, heart rate, and excretion to name a few.
Your vagus nerve also plays a role in your mental health. It helps to increase positive emotions, strengthen social connections, and reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.
There are many ways you can stimulate the vagus nerve. You can try deep breathing, meditation, exercising, music therapy, or having a massage.
If you are ready to try a non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator, try our new GammaCore Sapphire today.