Introduction

Do you suffer from worrying from any of the following: excessive worry, restlessness, difficulty getting a good nights sleep, feeling irritable and uptight, difficulty concentrating, pounding heart and palpitations, feeling a sense of impending doom, chest pains and shortness of breath. These are just some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety.   You are not alone, according to Anxiety Statistics UK over 8 million people experience an anxiety disorder at any one time.  You are in the right place – by following some simple vagus nerve anxiety exercise techniques you can combat feeling this way.

I offer a FREE 15 min consultation, to address your symptoms and get to the core of why you are suffering the way you do.  Please click here to arrange a chat how I can help in your particular case.

Vagal Nerve Massage

What is the Vagus Nerve?

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, it runs from the base of the brain down to the pelvis. 

The vagus nerve is a connection between the brain and the internal organs in the body.  It also controls the body’s response in times of rest and relaxation.  From the base of the brain, the vagus nerve branches out into various directions to the neck and upper body, where it is responsible for carrying sensory information from the skin of the ear, for example, to controlling the muscles that are used for swallowing and speaking.  

Symptoms of Vagus Nerve damage?

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of the gag reflex
  • Slow or fast heart rate
  • Changes in digestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Acid reflux
  • Speech difficulty

Why do I have Vagus Nerve anxiety?

The definition of anxiety is worrying excessively about the future or focusing too much on the past.  A person who suffers from anxiety is probably depressed as well.  Anxiety and depression tend to go hand in hand.

Anxiety itself is a natural response to a threat or danger. The body goes into fight, flight or freeze in such situations as:

  • Being confronted by an aggressive dog
  • Nearly getting run over by an oncoming vehicle
  • Having to slam on brakes when someone in front suddenly stops
Fight or Flight

Symptoms of vagus nerve anxiety:

Anxiety is a natural response to our body responding in a natural way to a threat or danger.  These vagus nerve anxiety responses can manifest in the form of:

  • Heart rate rising to bring oxygen to the major muscles for a quick response. When the body freezes your heart rate can increase or decrease.
  • Lungs – breathing speeds up. When body freezes you may hold your breath.
  • Blood – thickens so the blood can clot quicker, preparing the body for injury.
  • Skin – sweating can increase making you feel cold.
  • Hands & Feet – as blood flow increases to the major muscles, your hands & feet may get cold.

Your own physiological reaction depends on how you personally respond to stress.

Vagus Nerve Anxiety

Why Do I Suffer From Vagus Nerve Anxiety? 

Some of the most common causes are: 

Digestion

When our digestion is off balance it can send the wrong messages to the brain and vice versa.  The gut and the brain have a close connection in fact the gut is known as our second brain.  The vagus nerve is a bi-directional connection between the gut and the brain. 

Most of the communication between the digestive system and the gut runs through the vagus nerve, which runs from the base of the brain down to the gut.  Approximately 90% of the messages sent come from the gut and only 10% from the brain.  The vagus nerve gets its name from the Latin word “wanderer”.  The vagus nerve meanders its way from the brain to all the organs  involved with digestion.  The vagus nerve regulates digestion, heart rate, breathing, homeostasis and enhances mood and our emotions.  When the vagus nerve is damaged or injured this can affect not only our digestion but also cause vagus nerve anxiety.

Vagus Nerve Damage

Caffeine

When caffeine is consumed in moderate amounts it can increase alertness, however, too much can cause the same effect on the body as the “fight” or “flight” response.

Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine.  Adenosine is a brain chemical that makes you feel tired.  At the same time the “fight” or “flight” hormone is released that creates energy.  At high dosages the affect can cause vagus nerve anxiety and nervousness.  

Vagus Nerve Anxiety

Low Blood Sugar

When the blood sugar levels are low this causes the body to over compensate by trying to raise the levels of sugar in the blood by releasing epinephrine (adrenaline), the “fight” or “flight” hormone that tells the liver to produce more glucose (blood sugar).  It also can cause your heart to race and your palms to sweat.  This can also make you anxious and bad tempered, a response to vagal nerve anxiety.

Vagus Nerve Damage

Stress

Chronic stress can impact the vagus nerve and cause vagus nerve anxiety.  Stress and anxiety can both trigger the vagus nerve.  In fact, these two are often linked because stress can lead to anxiety, and anxiety can worsen the signs of stress.

A build-up of stress whether by one major event or a series of smaller life situations may trigger excessive anxiety, as the vagus nerve is receiving the wrong messages causing vagus nerve anxiety.  Some examples of stressors include: a family death, work stress, financial or ongoing worrying.  To manage anxiety try sending good messages to the vagus nerve by following some of the vagus nerve anxiety exercises listed below.

Stress Vagal Nerve Damage

 Hormone Imbalances

Hormones are chemical messages that send signals to different parts of the body.  The job of hormones is to regulate growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, sexual function and our moods.  If your hormones are out of balance i.e. too high or too low they can interfere with the normal running of body functions, causing complications and one of those complications could be vagus nerve anxiety.

Hormone and Anxiety

Vagus Nerve Damage

When the vagus nerve is damaged which could be the result of a head injury, infection, poor digestion, hormone imbalances etc., this can lead to low vagal tone.  This as a result may lead to a heightened stress response, which becomes severe, possibly causing vagus nerve anxiety.  The vagus nerve needs to be kept stimulated and toned so the right messages get through to the right places in the body.  Vagus nerve exercises are a good way to increase the tone.

Damage to the Vagus Nerve Symptoms

Can Vagus Nerve Exercises Help Vagus Nerve Anxiety?

By exercising the vagus nerve you can improve signs of anxiety and how you deal with life stressors.  There are many ways that the vagus nerve can be exercised – which we will cover in more detail later in this article.

By improving vagus nerve tone it has been proven to reduce vagus nerve anxiety, stress, depression and PTSD symptoms.  Studies have shown that when the vagus nerve is exercised, massaged and certain vagus nerve pressure points are stimulated we can train the nerve to overcome mental health challenges, so next time you feel the symptoms of anxiety etc. the feelings will be shorter lived and you can bounce back more quickly into a happy more balanced state of mind.

What happens when the Vagus Nerve is exercised ?

Because the Vagus Nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), when it is stimulated it increases vagus tone: this slows the heart rate down, breathing becomes slower and this calms our nervous system down.  This means that when the nerve is exercised through massage and certain pressure points are stimulated our emotions are calmer and more peaceful so we can overcome stress and less likely to show symptoms of vagus nerve anxiety, depression and PTSD.

Interesting Fact:  Vagus nerve tone can be passed down from mother to baby from inside the womb.  If a mother suffers from anxiety while pregnant, this can result in low vagal tone passing down to the new born.  Fortunately, the reverse is also true, if the mother has high vagal tone, she can pass this on also.

 GOOD NEWS!

Vagal tones are not set in stone for life they can easily be increased and improved.  There are many ways our vagus nerve can be activated.  Exercising the vagus nerve is one of the ways you can start to improve the tone and relieve many health conditions including vagus nerve anxiety and the many symptoms that come with it.

Combating Anxiety With Vagal Nerve Exercises

10 Vagus Nerve Anxiety Exercises 

1. Breathing Exercises

People breath and it is an automatic process with no conscious thoughts attached to it, by consciously thinking about the breathing, this concentrates the mind, slows the breathing and the heart rate.

When a person is experiencing vagus nerve anxiety the vagus nerve sends the wrong messages and the fight or flight response is triggered increasing the heart rate and breathing. The idea behind breathing exercises is to slow the breathing down and to breathe longer and deeper intentionally which signals to the vagus nerve that all is safe.

A small 2021 study found that 5 mins of deep slow breathing with equal inhalations and exhalations helps balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity reducing the anxiety symptoms.

Box Breathing Exercise:

  • Firstly, exhale all the air in the lungs
  • Slowly breathe in for the count 4
  • Hold at the top of the breath for 4
  • Slowly exhale for 4

Repeat 3 to 5 times

Alternate Nostril Breathing Exercise:

  • With your right hand place the thumb on your right nostril
  • Close your eyes and fully exhale completely out the left nostril
  • Release your thumb from your right nostril
  • Place your ring finger on the left nostril
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply from the right nostril
  • Hold the ring finger on left nostril and breath out the right nostril

Repeat 5 to 9 times

Vagal Nerve Breathing Exercises for Anxiety

2.  Expose yourself to the cold

When we expose ourselves to extreme cold conditions this activates the vagus nerve to activate specific neurons through vagus nerve pathways to send messages to the parasympathetic system telling the system to relax, regenerate and tells the body to lower the heart rate.

Research has shown that when we expose ourselves to the cold on a regular basis, this can lower the “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve.

You can expose yourself to the cold by taking cold showers, or if you live in an extremely cold climate go out in minimal clothing.  It can be quite daunting to be exposed to any extreme cold, so ease yourself slowly into building up your resistance and tolerance.  Next time you take a shower finish it off with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel, then work your way up to longer and longer periods of time.  Another way to ease yourself into it is by simply sticking your face in a bowl of ice-cold water.

Cold Exposure Vagal Nerve Exercise for Anxiety

3.  Use Your Voice

Your vocal cords are connected to the vagus nerve and the muscles at the back of the throat.  By singing, humming, chanting or gargling these muscles in the throat activate and this has been shown to increase heart-rate variability and vagal tone.

4.  Massage

Self-massage is a lovely way to tone the vagus nerve.  By following these steps:

  • Start by applying 2 pumps of your favourite body oil into your hands. Use an oil that is particularly calming like lavender oil
  • Cup your hands to your nose and inhale deeply.
  • Starting at the collar bone, gently massage in an upward motion along the left -hand side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.
  • Next move onto your ears. Taking your thumb and index finger and gently massage your ear lobes.
  • Place your hands on your chest with your fingers interlaced. Move your fingers up off your chest to behind the back of the head. Look straight ahead, while moving the gaze fully to the right.  Continue to do that until you feel like swallowing, yawning or a sigh.  Repeat on the other side.

This can be done anytime you feel anxious, but is particularly nice when done before bed to help with a good nights sleep.

Massage Vagus Nerve For Anxiety

5.  Pressure Points Massage

Pressure Point Vagus Nerve Massage

Acupressure is the use of applying pressure and massage to specific pressure points on the body along the energy channels that help free the flow of “Qi”, instead of using needles that is used in acupuncture.  In traditional Chinese medicine the smooth flow of “Qi” is essential to good health.

To relieve vagus nerve anxiety using these pressure points, follow these steps;

  1. Locate the pressure point on your body
  2. Use thumb or index finger to massage the point with deep and steady pressure
  3. Massage for 1-2 mins keeping contact with the skin
  4. Focus on nothing, close your eyes and take deep slow breaths

Repeat as often as needed.

There are 3 main vagus nerve pressure points on the body that specifically stimulate the vagus nerve and anxiety.

  • the ear
  • the wrist/forearm
  • on the front of the shin

By massaging these vagus nerve pressure points you improve vagal tone and relieve vagus nerve anxiety.

6. Foot Massage Exercise

There are specific points on the sole of the foot that when massaged and exercised stimulate the vagus nerve.

Give yourself a foot massage by rotating the ankle, rubbing the sole of your feet in short strokes and gently stretch your toes back and forth.

Foot Massage Exercise for Vagal Nerve Stimulation to Relieve Anxiety

7.  Tapping

Tapping the vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system.  The main tapping points used specifically for anxiety are:

 

  • the side of the hand
  • eyebrow
  • the side of and under the eye
  • under the nose
  • chin
  • collarbone
  • underarm
  • top of the head

8.  Yoga Exercise 

The best yoga exercises for anxiety and the vagus nerve are the ones that feel good to you both mentally and physically to bring a sense of grounding and calm. 

Some days practicing Hatha which is a slower form of yoga exercise, restorative or yin yoga maybe what your body needs to relieve anxiety.  However, some days may require a more active form of yoga exercise like vinyasa which is a faster pace yoga exercise.  When the parasympathetic system is over stimulated the mind is racing all over the place and so difficult to keep the mind still.  The continuous movement can help shift the anxiety by stretching and toning the vagus nerve signaling to the brain to calm down, and basically get things into perspective. 

Some poses that are good for vagus nerve anxiety and stretching the vagus nerve are:

  • Seated Neck Stretch
  • Cat Pose
  • Cow Pose
  • Forward Bend
  • Spinal Twist
  • Savasana

9.  Get Up And Dance!

Moving in general is a great exercise to tone the vagus nerve to relieve anxiety, it is even better when you pair it with having fun!  When you dance to your favourite music it can feel like a wonderful release of all toxic emotions stored away making you feel anxious. It increases the good mood endorphins and keeps the vagus nerve nice and toned and happy!

10. Mindfulness Meditation

Research has been shown that mindfulness meditation in particular increases the vagal tone and positive emotions and promotes good feelings about yourself.  Other research has shown that the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ activity in the brain is reduced, therefore reducing the response to vagus nerve anxiety.

What our nutritional expert has to say:

I have seen an increase in anxiety related symptoms in my clients especially since COVID.   Anxiety is not typically a reason why people initially come and see me for guidance, it is however, something that is very common amongst people but not widely understood. There are many reasons why a person suffers with anxiety and many nutritional and lifestyle changes a person can make to bring the body back into balance.  Whenever there is a symptom it is always an indication that the body is out of balance.

All the body systems of the body are interconnected and the vagus nerve is the main connection between the mind and the gut and vice versa.  Getting the body back into balance and a state of equilibrium is key to reducing the symptoms of anxiety.  As the mind and body is such a personal thing, no two people will react the same way to any given stressor causing a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  Getting to the core of why a person is feeling anxious gives an indication of what areas of their life needs addressing to bring that balance back. 

I know from my own experience that eating a nutritional diet that feeds my body and my mind is not the only piece of the puzzle.  The mind is a very powerful muscle so it only stands to reason that it should be exercised too through meditation, yoga, tapping, pressure point massage etc., as outlined in the above article.  These are exercises that should be practiced daily in order to keep the vagus nerve working at its best and sending the right messages to keep all the body working and functioning at its absolute best. 

The mind is so important as it will play havoc if it is not controlled and left to its own devices.  There is no need to suffer in silence, there are many ways to address anxiety that are fun, affordable and the benefits will make so much difference to the quality of your life!

The next time you find yourself reacting to a situation that is causing you unnecessary distress, stop take a deep breath and breathe! 

When anxiety takes over your life and you do not see an end to the situation.  Pick up the phone and let us have a chat. 

Give your life back the quality of health and wellbeing… 

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