Hacking the Vagus Nerve: Relaxing the Nervous System

There are two main parts of the autonomic nervous system: The sympathetic, which regulates fight/flight/flee. And the parasympathetic which regulates rest/digest/relax/grow.

The vagus nerve, also called cranial nerve x, is the longest cranial nerve in the body and functions as part of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Culturally, we are experiencing epidemic levels of anxiety - many are living with panic attacks, overwhelm, overstimulation, chronic fatigue, chronic illness, and mental illness. Modern life is rife with "too much-ness."

While problems like chronic anxiety or panic attacks can be indicative of deeper issues that should be addressed, learning to hack the vagus nerve for greater relaxation is helpful to all and can often provide immediate relief of anxiety symptoms.

Stimulating the vagus nerve helps to create parasympathetic dominance, which allows the alarm switch of the sympathetic nervous system to "turn off."

Working with the vagus nerve can lead to greater well-being, more relaxation, more joy, and better health.

Dive deep into nervous system care with me in the recorded version of my best-selling course, Deep Nervous System Care.

Hacking the vagus nerve

  • Cold water therapy (cold shower or cold plunge) -- not if pregnant or heavy days of your menstrual cycle
  • Singing, mantra recitation, humming, or gurgling
  • Laughing 
  • Deep belly breathing 
  • Extending the exhale of your breath very long and slow. Try Sitali Breath.
  • Meditation. This is my favorite description of meditation ever, from Alan Watts
  • Time in nature (esp. touching or laying on the ground)
  • Exercise (esp. legs + weights) My fav workouts are on this blog
  • Music - Native American flute music has been shown to increase HRV 
  • Heart to heart hugs 
  • Massage/bodywork
  • Acupuncture
  • Social engagement 
  • Play
  • Dance
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Speak in a slow, calm, soothing voice
  • Be around other people who speak slowly in a calm, soothing voice

Tips to reduce anxiety quickly if having a panic attack

  • 5-4-3-2-1 exercise for an anxiety attack. Learn HERE
  • Put your hands on your face very sweetly and gently
  • Put one hand on your head, and one hand on your heart
  • Organize — can be anything, ex. your closet, your drawer
  • Take a cold shower
  • Suck on a lemon
  • Hold an ice cube. Notice how the cold feels. Switch hands.

More resources

"'What is the secret to life? To be intimate with all the things."

Jessica Hesser