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How To Calm Your Body And Mind Quickly

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.