Deal With Anxiety Using Your Vagus Nerve

How often do you have to deal with anxiety in your everyday life?

If you find yourself worrying too much or getting caught into non-stopping irrational thoughts or even feeling nausea, chest pain and heart palpitations then this article is for you.


You are about to learn a simple yet very effective technique to deal with anxiety naturally by stimulating your vagus nerve. This powerful technique can be used to relieve stress and anxiety anywhere and anytime; at home, when commuting and of course at those horrible work meetings.

Did you know that the FDA approved a surgically implanted device that is successfully treating depression by periodically stimulating the vagus nerve?
But hopefully you won’t need surgery. You can enjoy the benefits of vagus nerve stimulation by adopting some simple breathing techniques.

So what is that vagus nerve?

The vagus nerve is the most important element of the parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms you down by controlling your relaxation response).

It originates from the brainstem and it is “wandering” all the way down, into the belly, spreading fibers to the tongue, pharynx, vocal chords, lungs, heart, stomach, intestines and glands that produce anti-stress enzymes and hormones (like Acetylcholine, Prolactin, Vasopressin, Oxytocin), influencing digestion, metabolism and of course the relaxation response.

Vagus nerve acts as the mind-body connection, and it is the cabling behind your heart’s emotions and gut instincts. The key to manage your mind state and deal with anxiety  lies on being able to activate the calming nervous pathways of your parasympathetic system.

You cannot control this part of the nervous system on demand, but you can indirectly stimulate your vagus nerve by

  • Immersing your face in cold water (diving reflex)
  • Attempting to exhale against a closed airway (Valsalva maneuver).
    This can be done by keeping the mouth closed and pinching the nose while trying to breathe out. This greatly increases pressures inside the chest cavity  stimulating the vagus nerve and increasing vagal tone
  • Singing
  • And of course, diaphragmatic breathing techniques

Strengthening this living nervous system can pay great dividends, and the best tool to achieve that is by training your breath.

Deal with anxiety by breathing with your diaphragm

Now it’s time to put this concept into practice. The first thing you need to do is breathe using your diaphragm (abdominal breathing). This is the foundation of proper breathing and anxiety relief.

The diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle. It is belled shaped and when you inhale it patterns out (or should flatten out), acting as piston and creating vacuum on you thoracic cavity, so your lungs can expand and air gets in.
On the other side it creates pressure, pushing the viscera down and out, expanding your belly. That’s why good breathing practice is described as abdominal breathing or belly breathing.

Breathe with the glottis partially closed

Glottis is at the back of your tongue and it is closed when you are holding your breath. Here we want have it partially closed. It is that feeling you have in your throat while you exhale and make  a “Hhhhh” sound in order to clean your glasses, but without actually making the sound.
It also resembles the way you breathe when you are in the verge of sleep and you are about to snore a little bit.
By controlling the glottis you are:

  •  Controlling the air flow, both during inhale and during exhale
  •  Stimulating your vagus nerve.

Try it right now

Now it’s time to put all this theory into action by practicing this 7 – 11 diaphragmatic breathing technique.

  • Inhale diaphragmatically through your nose, with your glottis partially closed, like almost making a “Hhhhh” sound for a count of 7
  • Hold your breath for a moment
  • Exhale through your nose (or you mouth), with your glottis partially closed, like almost making a “Hhhhh” sound for a count of 11

This is one breath cycle; go for 6 – 12 cycles and observe the results.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The more you practice the more effective this technique will be and the better you will deal with anxiety.

Eventually, when your newly acquired breathing skill is established and abdominal breathing becomes a habit, you’ll find your body constantly operating at a much lower stress level.

You will also notice (or sometimes you will not even notice it) how your breath responses to stressful situations; your body will be conditioned to automatically control your breath and by this, your stress and anxiety.



Summary

One of the keys to deal with anxiety is to learn how to stimulate your vagus nerve through proper breathing. The vagus nerve acts as the mind-body connection and controls your relaxation response. You can stimulate your vagus nerve by practicing diaphragmatic breathing with the glottis partially closed. Use your dead time to practice this technique consistently, turn it to a habit and you’ll be amazed by the results.
Deal with anxiety with Bill Valandreas
By Bill Valandreas

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4 Comments

  • Izzy

    Reply Reply May 23, 2014

    I was aware of the surgically implantable vagus nerve stimulator, but is there any research linking diaphragmatic breathing with vagus nerve stimulation? If so, have there been studies linking it to treatment of epilepsy, depression, and/or anxiety, as there have been for the more invasive implant?

    • Bill Valandreas

      Reply Reply July 3, 2014

      Breathwork (in the form of Pranayama, Qigong etc.) is quite an ancient therapeutic method, but I’m not aware if there are any official studies linking it to treatment of epilepsy, depression, and/or anxiety. However diaphragmatic breathing is a free non-invasive method that can be used at any place and any time to help us deal with anxiety naturally with very good results.

  • tasnim

    Reply Reply November 18, 2013

    Thanks for this very simple and clear explanation. It has been very helpful. Can you refer me to any research on the content?

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