How to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve for Better Mental Health
“By developing an understanding of the workings of your vagus nerve, you may find it possible to work with your nervous system rather than feel trapped when it works against you.”
— Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Clinical Psychologist
Stimulating my vagus nerve has played a key role in the management of my mental health over the years.
What exactly is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in your body.
It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs.
In fact, the word "vagus" means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.
The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.
But what you really need to pay special attention to is the "tone" of your vagus nerve.
Vagal tone is an internal biological process that represents the activity of the vagus nerve.
Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.
In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa (5).
“It’s almost like yin and yang. The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.”
— Dr. Mladen Golubic, MD, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic