4 Vagus Nerve Exercises for Anxiety

4 Vagus Nerve Exercises for Anxiety
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You feel your heart racing out of control, your palms get clammy, you get the chills, you start shaking, and then you feel like you are hyperventilating. It feels like you are having a heart attack and you have no idea how to make it stop. It feels like it is going to last forever. There may have even been times where you ended up in the emergency room. This is panic.

There are a ton of ways you may read about how to decrease panic attacks or anxiety in general. There are quick and effective ways to decrease anxiety by activating your vagus nerve which is part of your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the calming nervous system in your body. Your vagus nerve runs from your brain down to your stomach. It is responsible for regulating your heart rate and breathing amongst other internal functions. By intentionally using a tool to activate your vagus nerve it will help calm your nervous system and body thus decrease panic related symptoms.

The first way to activate your Vagus nerve is by practicing vergence. Vergence is a Brainspotting therapy technique that I teach almost all my clients that come in with anxiety or panic related symptoms. It is a quick and effective way to activate your vagus nerve to help calm your body. How does Vergence calm your body and decrease anxiety? The 6 muscles that hold your eyes in place are called your Extraocular muscles or EOMs. Your extraocular muscles consist of many nerve endings and is the source of your oculocardiac reflex (OCR) (Grand 2013). The oculocardiac reflex is an immediate way to calm your body. When you look back and forth between two things (one close and one far) you are activating your OCR and in turn your vagus nerve.

How To Use Vergence Therapy:

Grab a Pen!

  1. Hold a pen or your finger about 6 inches in front of your face and hold your eyes there for about 3 seconds.
  2. Look through the pen to a point in the distance about 10 feet away and hold your eyes on that point for about three seconds.
  3. Return your eyes to the pen (close point) for three seconds.
  4. Repeat shifting your focus from the pen to the far away point for about two to three minutes.
  5. You can set a timer on your phone to help with the time!

Mammalian Dive Response
The second way to activate your Vagus nerve is the Mammalian Dive Response. Humans have a mammalian diving response that immediately gets activated when you are submerged in cold water. The dive response will help slow down your heart rate and breathing, calming your body and decrease panic.

  1. Fill up a bowl with ice cold water
  2. Submerge your head into the bowl for 15 seconds
  3. Another option is to take a very cold shower

Vocal Cords
The third way to activate your Vagus nerve is by using your vocal cords. Your Vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords. You can activate the vagus nerve this way by singing loudly, humming, or gurgling water.

Deep Breathing Exercises
The Fourth way to activate your vagus nerve is by doing Deep Breathing exercises. Slow deep breathing exercises can also activate the vagus nerve.

You can do this by:

  1. Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest
  2. While breathing in through your nose your hand on your belly should rise. The hand on your chest should remain still.
  3. Exhale through pursed lips slowly feeling the hand on your belly go down. Your exhale should be longer than your inhale.
  4. Repeat.

Ph.D., G. D. (2013). Brainspotting: The Revolutionary New Therapy for Rapid and Effective Change (7.6.2013 ed.). Sounds True.


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