8 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

Have you ever heard of fight or flight response?

When we experience sudden, high stress and/or trauma, we activate our fight or flight response, getting the body ready to either flee the scene or fight. In our everyday experience of stress, there is no place to run or hide, and the stressful situation is not one that can easily be fought off.

During periods of chronic high stress, the body stays in high gear, with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the body. This creates wear and tear on the body and mind, and over time can create a multitude of health problems such as chronic pain, anxiety, mood swings, gut inflammation and so many more.

The good news is that our bodies contain a superpower that can assist with decreasing our fight or flight response.

This superpower stems from the ever-powerful Vagus nerve. This cranial nerve acts to counterbalance the fight or flight system and can trigger a relaxation response in our body. It is one, if not the main cranial nerve that connects the brain to the body. The Vagus nerve is a major part of how our bodies and brains function; without it, our bodies wouldn’t be able to do basic tasks, such as digestion, respiration, and basically all organ functions. By stimulating it we can receive powerful health benefits. And the best part is, it is most of them are easy.


According to one intriguing study on healthy 18-year-olds, singing increases Heart Rate Variability.

Heart rate variability has been associated with relaxation, better stress resilience and adaptation, and higher rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) activity. Therefore, you may want to relax and express yourself as much as possible when singing and chanting. Try not to think about how you sound and whether you’ll reach the goals you set for that session. Just blast that radio in the car and sing your heart out.

Deliberate Cold Exposure

Although we experience cold exposure many years of the month, the cold exposure we are talking about is a little more specified. One of the more pronounced benefits that occurs every time is the large and long lasting increases in dopamine and adrenaline following even brief cold exposure of 1-3 min.

You can do this by way of immersion in cold water up to the neck in a cold tub, ice bath, lake or ocean or a cold shower. “How cold should it be?” There is no simple answer to that question, everyone has different levels of cold tolerance. However it should be uncomfortably cold, but safe to stay in for one to three minutes.

As with any new regimen, Remember to consult your healthcare provider first. Most doctors recommend against cold showers in people with heart disease or in those at risk. That’s because sudden cold exposure can restrict blood vessels, which may raise heart rate and blood pressure.

Deep Slow Breathing

Deep and slow breathing is also hypothesized to stimulate the vagus nerve, and it’s likely common to various types of meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques. Your heart and neck contain neurons that have receptors called “baroreceptors”. These specialized neurons detect blood pressure and transmit the neuronal signal to the brain. If a person’s blood pressure is high, this signal goes on to activate their vagus nerve, which connects to the heart to lower blood pressure and heart rate. The result is less fight-or-flight activation (sympathetic) and more rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) activity.

Tip: Yoga practitioners point out that you need to breathe from your belly, slowly. That means when you breathe in through your nose, your belly should expand or go outward. When you breathe out your belly should cave in. The more your belly expands and the more it caves in, the deeper you’re breathing.

Positive Thoughts
and Social Connection

In a study of 65 people, half of the participants were instructed to sit and think compassionately about others by silently repeating phrases like “May you feel safe, may you feel happy, may you feel healthy, may you live with ease,” and keep returning to these thoughts when their minds wandered. Although more research is needed, these findings suggest that the vagus nerve is tied to how positive emotions and social connections may help people on a path to better health.

Positive thoughts and social connection may stimulate the vagus nerve and promote joy, serenity, and compassion. So, if you need a good excuse to get together with your friends and enjoy a night together, this is it.


There may be some truth to the saying “laughter is the best medicine.” A couple of studies suggest the health benefits of laughing. Scientists suggest that laughter might be capable of stimulating the vagus nerve, claiming that laughter therapy is something that may be powerful for health. Yet studies are still few and it’s hard to say exactly how and why laughter makes us feel so good, but why not give it a try. Pop on that comedy special or invite your friend over that no matter what will make you laugh.


Mild exercise stimulates gut flow in animals – and vagus nerve activation was needed to initiate this response. Thus, some scientists hypothesize that exercise may stimulate the vagus nerve, though there’s not tons of evidence to support this. Exercise does increase endorphins and release feel good hormones, so cultivating an exercise routine is good for the mind and body. If you have troubles with finding a good routine to stick to, come check out our EGYM at Apex to give it a try.


As if you need another reason to keep your massage appointment, there is evidence to suggest massage may also activate the vagus nerve. The studies that have been done have helped infants gain weight by stimulating the gut and this is thought to be largely mediated by vagus nerve activation and reflexology foot massages are also claimed to increase vagal activity and heart rate variability while lowering heart rate and blood pressure, according to one small study on healthy people. Overall, we know we feel relaxed, grounded and at ease after massage and body work, so don’t hesitate to keep that regular appointment for overall good health.

Other Theoretical ways to
help stimulate the vagus nerve

Not studies to support, but have anecdotal evidence to suggest they help) are as follows:

    1. Regular morning/evening sun exposure
    2. Gargling
    3. Tongue depressors
    4. Fasting
    5. Probiotics
    6. Thi Chi/Yoga
    7. Acupuncture
    8. Meditation/prayer

In conclusion, finding ways to be healthier can be simplified into things that will help your nervous system. Incorporating these simple activities into your daily life may have many unknown benefits, along with regulating your vagus nerve. So give a few a try today!









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