How do you achieve a feeling of calmness and emotional balance? In this article, we’ll explore three simple ways to relax.
It’s normal to experience a range of emotions and some are more uncomfortable than others. During times of increased stress, it’s helpful to know a few techniques that can help you establish equanimity, or a calm mental state.
This article will explain how the Vagus nerve is linked with stress management. You’ll also learn three simple ways to calm down when you notice signs of stress (such as quick breathing, a tight jaw, or sweaty palms). Please note, these exercises are not stand-alone treatments, so please reach out to a Love.Life Telehealth physician if you struggle with chronic stress.
How is my Vagus nerve linked to my emotions?
The Vagus nerve begins in your brain and travels all the way down into your digestive tract. You can think of it as a telephone wire that allows two-way communication between your brain and gut. This nerve affects your digestive system as well as your mood and heart rate. As the main component of your parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” state, the Vagus nerve works automatically to help your body relax.
Fortunately, there are ways to support this system’s regulation. Just as a muscle becomes stronger with exercise, certain activities can increase the tone of your Vagus nerve, which will allow you to relax faster. Exercises that tone this nerve are not sole treatments, but research shows they can support your mood and gut health.
1. Deep Breathing
Deep breathing influences your body’s stress response. It can be carried out on its own, or during meditation or yoga. Practicing a technique known as diaphragmatic breathing 15 minutes a day for at least two weeks has been shown to help. The Vagus nerve connects to your diaphragm, a dome-like muscle that sits under your lungs to help you breathe. Inhaling deep into your abdomen, as if your belly is an expanding balloon, contracts your diaphragm. As you exhale and relax your diaphragm, air is released and the “belly balloon” deflates. Here’s how to perform diaphragmatic breathing:
- Find a comfortable position lying down, seated, or standing.
- Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.
- Inhale through your nose for about six seconds and fill your abdomen with air.
- Exhale through your mouth for about six seconds. Engage your core to push the air out.
- Repeat for up to 15 minutes.
Tip: Try to keep the hand on your chest still, while the hand on your belly moves with your breath.
For more diaphragmatic breathing techniques, refer to this article.
2. Endurance Training
The Vagus nerve communicates with your lungs and runs through your heart. Physical activity has been shown to improve its tone. Research suggests that moderate interval or endurance training supports the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) without activating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).
To experience this give cycling a try. Monitor your heart rate to keep it under 120 beats per minute during intervals and aim for a speed of 50 rounds per minute with a resistance of two kilograms. Rest between intervals to avoid switching into your sympathetic nervous system.
3. Cold Stimulation
Have you ever splashed cold water on your face to reset your mood? This technique may help because the cold sensation on your neck can stimulate the Vagus nerve and activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. For even better results use cold stimulation on the side of your neck. Aim for intervals of 16 seconds with water temperature that’s between 60-66 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bottom line: these three techniques can help you feel calmer more quickly. That’s important because stress management is a key component of Lifestyle Medicine. Commit to trying out all three to discover which feels most effective for you when you need to de-stress.