Vagal Toning for High-Functioning Anxiety
Overthinking. Overachieving. Perfectionistic. People-Pleasing.
This is the ﬁnal post in our series about high-functioning anxiety, and it will arm you with a quick but powerful tool to stop anxiety in its tracks:
✨Vagal Toning Exercises✨
The vagus nerve is at the center of your parasympathetic nervous system—the arm of your nervous system that puts you into rest and relaxation. It is the longest nerve in your body. Its name comes from the Latin term “vagary” which means “wanderer”. Appropriate name, don’t you think? The vagus nerve is actually a network of nerves that connect your nervous system to your gut, heart, immune system, lungs, and other organs. The parasympathetic nervous system controls the “rest and digest” functions of your body while balancing out your “ﬁght or ﬂight” responses to your environment.
Better vagal tone means your body can relax faster after experiencing stress. There is a 2010 study showing that increased vagal tone positively aﬀects your emotional health. Increased vagal tone results in decreased stress, heart rate, and blood pressure allowing you to rest and relax.
You can learn more about this miraculous nerve here.
You can practice vagal toning exercises as part of your everyday routine AND use them in the moment for immediate stress relief.
Here are 8 quick ways to activate and tone your vagus nerve:
1. Deep Breathing
Slow and deep belly breathing is a powerful way to tone the vagus nerve. You can do this anytime and anywhere. One way to make a practice of deep breathing is to try an app that will alert you with reminders and guide you through quick breathing exercises. Slow your breathing from the average of 12 breaths per minute to 6. A simple technique is to inhale to a count of 4, exhale to a count of 4, and wait to a count of 4 to inhale again. Try it and you immediately feel it.
The vagus nerve connects to the vocal cords, so the act of humming stimulates the nerve. Other ways to use the vocal cords to stimulate the vagus nerve include singing, laughter, or chanting.
3. Cold Water Splash
Exposure to cold is known to activate the vagus nerve. You can make a routine of this by ending your showers on cold. If you need quick cold exposure at the moment, try splashing your face with cold water.
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5. Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness
All of these practices stimulate the vagus nerve. Don’t know how? Join a class. Once you learn, you can practice these anywhere and anytime throughout the day.
6. Massage and Reﬂexology
The focus of this involves having a foot massage with pressure applied to the outer part of the foot below the pinky toe and above the arch of the foot. If you’ve never had a foot massage, you are missing out!
No marathons are needed. Just try to walk 30-60 minutes per day.
8. Eat Healthy Whole Foods
Basically if food is made in a plant, don’t eat it. If it comes from nature, eat that. Avoid processed foods that come in a box and are loaded with sugar.
So, next time you catch yourself in a state of overthinking and overwhelm, give yourself a quick break (even as little as one minute!) to reset your nervous system with a vagal toning exercise.
If you can relate to the information we’ve shared in this series on high-functioning anxiety and are ready to break the pattern to achieve a greater sense of calm, please reach out so we can help.
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