How do I cope with all this anxiety, fear, and worry? It’s taking over my life, getting in the way of my happiness!!
A client of mine, Julia,** reached out for therapy because her anxiety was giving her so much trouble. She would be fearful of leaving the house to go to work because she couldn’t trust anyone after a lifetime of traumatic experiences. She couldn’t hold down jobs and felt so ashamed just to be her. She startled easily, snapped at people, yelled at her kids when they didn’t deserve it, had nightmares, and had difficult relationships with some of her family members. In short, she was miserable.
When you are recovering from traumatic events or experiences, the nervous system can be in heightened dysregulated states quite frequently. Feelings of fear and feelings related to fear, like stress, worry, anxiety, and panic, often are present – this is because we enter one or more of the 4 Fs (fight, flight, fear, fawn – see my blog here) and may have a hard time discharging the cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones that our bodies release in the face of (real or imagined threat).
So what is actually going on here? How does this work in the body?
The vagus nerve is an important part of our body’s autonomic nervous system that helps regulate the body’s response to stress. It plays a major role in regulating heart rate, breathing, digestive functioning and other activities related to staying calm and relaxed. By activating the vagus nerve, we can reduce feelings of anxiety, fear, and worry.
Here are five quick and easy ways to activate the vagus nerve for a sense of calm and relaxation:
1. Deep breathing: Taking slow, deep breaths helps to activate the vagus nerve, which in turn triggers the relaxation response. Try inhaling through your nose for four seconds and then exhaling through your mouth for eight seconds. This helps to stimulate the body’s natural calming response.
2. Humming: Humming is another effective way to activate the vagus nerve and produce a calming effect. The vibrations from humming can help relax tense muscles and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
3. Massage therapy: Massage therapy releases tension and helps to activate the vagus nerve, allowing for deeper states of relaxation.
4. Aromatherapy: Certain essential oils can be used to help reduce stress and activate the vagus nerve — lavender, chamomile, and bergamot are some of the best-known choices.
5. Cold water therapy: Exposure to cold water helps activate the vagus nerve and produces a calming effect. Try taking a cold shower or jumping into a cold pool for a few seconds and then gradually increase your exposure over time.
Julia started adding deep breathing to her daily routine for just a few minutes in the morning when she woke up and a few minutes in the evening before falling asleep, which definitely helped her sleep quality too. She gets deep tissue massages monthly, and has added yoga and meditation weekly. After a few months, she noticed that she was less reactive to stress and had a much improved ability to handle worries and fears when they arose, which has become much less frequent.
Self-care and vagus nerve stimulation works optimally when it’s done daily. so make it part of your routine.
By activating the vagus nerve, you can reduce feelings of anxiety, fear, and worry, allowing for greater relaxation and peace of mind. Try using one or more of these techniques to calm your body and mind today!
*This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before making any changes to your healthcare routine.
**The client represents a composite of clients and does not represent any individual client.