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How To Calm Your Body And Mind Quickly

Updated: Jun 12

Written by Dr. Daniela Steyn

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with stress that you didn't know how to calm yourself down? Maybe you tried meditation or exercise, or asked your doctor for anti-anxiety medication, but nothing worked. If this sounds like you, read on – because I will share the strategies I share with my patients to quickly and easily calm your body and mind. The key is your Vagus nerve.

The Vagus nerve (also known as the tenth cranial nerve) is a long, wandering nerve that runs from your brainstem down to your abdomen. The word "vagus" means "wandering" in Latin. The Vagus nerve is responsible for many vital functions, including controlling your heart rate and digestive system. But what you may not know is that the Vagus nerve also plays an important role in your body's stress response. In fact, research has shown that stimulating the Vagus nerve can quickly calm both the body and mind.

The Vagus nerve is part of your parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calming and keeping your nervous system in balance. It does the opposite to your sympathetic nervous system (your fight/flight response), which gets stimulated when you are stressed out. Typically when you are stressed/anxious, your heart rate will increase, your blood pressure will increase, and you might have gut upset. When you experience any of these symptoms, you can easily counteract them by stimulating your parasympathetic system. The easiest way to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system is by stimulating your Vagus nerve.

Your Vagus nerve is responsible for calming your heart rate, lowering your blood pressure, and improving digestion. It controls sweat and plays a vital role in your immune system.

Your Vagus nerve continually communicates between your brain and your organs, including your heart, lungs, kidneys, spleen, intestines, liver and even muscles.

So if you're feeling stressed out, here are seven ways to activate your Vagus nerve and reduce your anxiety.

1. Deep, slow belly breathing

This is an easy and incredibly powerful tool to reduce anxiety. I teach this to my pediatric patients, and I also teach this at corporate 'wellness at work' workshops. You can do it anywhere. Follow these easy steps:

  • Sit in a relaxed position. If you are at home, you can lie down. I sometimes do it standing when working at the hospital in between patient rooms with no chair nearby.

  • Put your hands on your abdomen.

  • Close your mouth gently. Touch your tongue to your upper palate and breathe through your nose. (It is perfectly fine to breathe through your mouth if you have a stuffy nose.)

  • Inhale deep and slow. Be aware of your diaphragm moving downward and your abdomen expanding. The more significant the diaphragm movement, the more Vagus nerve stimulation you will achieve. I teach children to imagine their tummy filling up with air like a balloon.

  • At the end of the exhalation, let your abdomen fall naturally as you exhale, like a balloon releasing air.

  • Try to get all the air out of your lungs. Imagine the balloon flat at the end of expiration.

  • Repeat this several times, focusing on your hands rising on your abdomen on the inhale and falling on the exhale.

2. Sing!

Your Vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and throat muscles. When you sing out loud, you stimulate your Vagus nerve. Patients often tell me that they are not comfortable singing, so I advise them to sing in the shower or alone in their cars. Try it!

3. Exercise stimulates the parasympathetic system

Most forms of exercise do stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. So much research shows that exercise reduces stress, makes you healthier, strengthens your immune system, helps you recover quicker from illness, improves your blood pressure, improves your gut health, and prevents hormonal imbalances.

4. Laugh!

A proper belly laugh will stimulate your Vagus nerve and trigger your relaxation response.

5. Cold water therapy

I love open water swimming. Throughout the Summer months, I swim in an often very cool Lake Ontario. Some of the incredible swimmers I swim with swim year-round, even after the lake starts freezing on the surface!

Brief doses of cold temperatures have been shown to increase Vagus nerve activity and curb your sympathetic (flight or fight) response. Cold water therapy is also great for anti-aging and stimulating your immune system. If you decide to swim in a cold lake, I recommend reading more about it and talking to local swimmers, doing it smartly (to avoid the risk of hypothermia and dying).

Something you can easily do at home is to take cold showers. My dad used to take a cold shower first thing in the morning. We would hear him sing very loudly throughout the house, especially in Winter. The colder the water was, the louder he would sing Italian opera. As I learned more about holistic medicine, I realized my dad's early morning ritual (this was after his VERY early prayer and meditation) stimulated his immune system, prevented disease, and made him happier and healthier throughout his life.

I typically advise my patients to shower how they usually do, then turn the water cold for 30 seconds and back to their normal shower temperature. Several patients are doing amazing with this and have made a cold shower first thing in the morning a part of their daily mental and physical health routine.

6. Meditate

Meditation will improve relaxation, reduce stress and improve your vagal tone for hours after the actual meditation is over. You can watch my YouTube introduction to meditation here. If you would like to learn more about meditation, here is a short 20min podcast you will enjoy.

7. Nutrition to nourish your Vagus nerve

Here at Wellness MD, we believe food is medicine. Foods I recommend to support your Vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system are:

  • Foods containing probiotics

  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids

  • Chia seeds

  • Flax seeds and walnuts

The next time you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try one of these seven ways to activate your Vagus nerve and calm down. Which of these do you think will work best for you? Let me know in the comments below. And if you want more tips on how to live a healthier life, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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