We have 12 cranial nerves in our brains that are present in pairs. These nerves connect the brain to other body parts, such as the head, neck, chest, and abdomen. Some nerves send sensory information regarding smell, vision, taste, and sound; others control the movement of other muscles and glands, and some do both. The Vagus nerve is one of those nerves that has two jobs. It is also known as cranial nerve X. It is the main part of our parasympathetic nervous system, which controls body functions related to digestion, the heart, and the immune system.
The Vagus nerve plays a very important role in our sensory and motor functions, such as:
The Vagus nerve sends information from the gut to the brain whenever you feel compassion, empathy, stress, anxiety, or fear. Hence, the gut feeling! When the body reacts to a dangerous situation or threat, it goes into fight or flight mode. The parasympathetic nervous system helps us to relax and realize when there is no more danger.
According to an article by NIH, The Vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve and affects many areas. Damage to any part of this nerve can lead to the following symptoms:
If the Vagus nerve becomes damaged, it can result in neck pain, affect heart rate and blood pressure, or cause fainting. It could also cause gastroparesis, which affects the digestive system's involuntary contractions and prevents the stomach from emptying properly. An article by Mayo Clinic states that symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite or feeling full soon after starting a meal, and acid reflux.
Vagus nerve stimulation sends impulses from the Vagal nerve to the brain. An electric device is placed in the chest beneath the skin to stimulate the nerve. A wire connects the device to the left Vagus nerve. When activated, the device sends a signal from the Vagus nerve to the brain to calm any irregular activity. This method is used to treat cases of epilepsy and depression, which no longer respond to traditional therapies.
The Vagus nerve is linked to our emotional and mental well-being. The Vagus nerve goes into action whenever we do anything related to our feelings or express our inner emotions. Here are some vagus nerve exercises you can do to reset your Vagus nerve.
Meditation helps to calm your mind and relax your body. It enables you to focus on your thoughts, resolve inner conflict, and take you closer to reality. It reduces the heart rate and guides you to focus on breathing. Yoga and meditation make you mindful of your surroundings and help activate the Vagus nerve.
One way to relax your mind and breathing is to put one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. As you breathe, feel your belly expand and contract. This will help to lower blood pressure and heart rate. Another method is to extend your exhales more than you inhale. This also helps to lower the heart rate and the associated anxiety.
Cold water quickly activates your brain to react to this cold feeling. It helps get relief from anxiety and stress. Splashing some cold water on your face is one way to do it. Another method is putting some ice cubes in a plastic bag and applying it to your face. This slows down the heart rate, increases blood flow to the brain, and relaxes the body.
Many athletes also resort to cold-water immersion as it improves the feeling of short-term relaxation. It also helps with an injury by restricting the blood flow to that area, thereby reducing swelling and inflammation. Applying an ice pack or taking a cold shower will also have the same impact as a cold-water splash.
Who does not love music? Music is a way of expressing your feelings of happiness, sadness, excitement, etc. It brings joy and elevates the mood.
The Vagus nerve is also linked to our vocal cords. Hence, singing or humming a song will activate the nerve. Even gargling will cause vibrations in the nerve and help start it. As the nerve is linked to our emotions, any activity that improves our mood or changes our emotions to a happy feeling, the Vagus nerve lights up.
Massages help to relax the body and unwind. It calms the muscles of the body and releases all the tension. A painful or strong-pressured massage may not be suitable to activate the nerve. Instead, this might trigger the flight or fight response.
Activities like rotating your ankle, rubbing the sole in short strokes, and stretching the toes back and forth are some ways to massage your feet. The neck and the shoulders are also two areas that are in close proximity to the Vagus nerve. So, applying moderate pressure with twisting or stroking motions might be beneficial in stimulating the nerve. This vagus nerve stimulation exercise helps in relaxing the heartbeat and improves the vagal tone.
The Vagus nerve supports many important functions of the body, such as the digestive system, heart, mood, speech, and even mental well-being. This is why it is so important to keep it healthy and active. Vagus nerve exercises like physical exercise, mood-changing activities, singing, and meditation help to activate this nerve.
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Akanksha Nigam has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. With a Masters Degree in Finance, she began her Marketing career in the banking industry. However, her interest in human ...
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