Have you ever heard about the Vagus Nerve? Well, the vagus nerve is one of the longest nerves in your body. Additionally, it is a nerve that facilitates the mind-body connection. With that in mind, optimizing how your vagus nerve functions will not only make you healthier and happier, but also increase your ability to cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. 

In this article, you are going to gain insights about the vagus nerve with regards to what it is, its role in the mind-body connection, and how it gets damaged. You will also get to learn the characteristics of a damaged vagus nerve, as well as how you can stimulate your vagus nerve.

  1. What is the vagus nerve ?

The vagus nerve originates from the latin word vagus, which refers to wandering or vagrant. With that in mind, this nerve is referred to as the vagus nerve because it wanders throughout your body.

Having said that, the vagus nerve is the largest cranial nerve. It carries impulses to and from your brain. It runs from the base of your brain all the way to your neck, chest and down to your abdomen. The vagus nerve is found on each side of your body.

  1. What role does it play in the body (mind/body connection) 

The vagus nerve plays a critical role in the mind-body relationship. According to polyvagal theory of Stephen Porges, regulating the state of your nervous system can help you treat mental health conditions. The vagus activity is believed to be responsible for how your emotions are manifested in your body, from the anxiety or butterflies you feel in your stomach, to the intense sadness. 

In essence, the vagus nerve is responsible for the spark in your smile, and what you refer to as “gut feeling”, or “getting on my nerves”. Your vagus nerve tends to assess the mood of people around you, and sends that information to your brain. Additionally, when your vagus nerve is stimulated, it triggers a relaxation response, which slows down your heart rate. What’s more, the relaxation response tends to trigger the release of certain proteins and enzymes, which help you to calm down. 

In a nutshell,  your vagus nerve helps to repress irrelevant stimuli, calm you down, regulate your emotions, improve concentrate, and increase your ability to relate well with others. Additionally, it helps you respond effectively to symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. On the other hand, if you vagus nerve is not functioning well, you are likely to suffer from lower heart rate, cognitive impairment and depression. 

  1. How it can get damaged/overworked 

The vagus nerve is just like any other nerve, which means it can also get damaged, particularly when it is overstimulated. Among the things that can overstimulate and damage the vagus nerve include stress, abdominal surgery, overwhelming fear, intense pain, pregnancy, prolonged standing, and exposure to too much heat. Additionally, certain medications such as those used to treat high blood pressure can also lead to vagus nerve dysfunction.

  1. What are the outward effects of a damaged vagus nerve? 

The healthy functioning of your vagus nerve is referred to as high vagal tone, while the malfunction of your vagus nerve is referred to as low vagal tone. With that being said, the signs and symptoms of low vagal tone include:

  • Fainting 
  • Mood disorders
  • Chronic inflammation 
  • Obesity 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency 
  • Gastrointestinal disorders 
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Cancer 
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease and decreased heart rate 
  • Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Addictions 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Digestive disorders 
  • Constipation 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Choking while eating 
  • Autoimmune disorders 
  • migraines
  1. How to hack or nourish the vagus nerve 

To stimulate the vagus nerve, you can incorporate various activities into your every day schedule. They include:

  • Exercises 

Exercise stimulates the vagus nerve. It increase’s your brain’s cognitive abilities, your mental health, and your gut’s health. 

  • Deep slow breathing 

Breathing deeply and slowly tends to activate your vagus nerve, thus enabling it to communicate with your brain. As a result, your heart rate and blood pressure can decrease significantly.

  • Thoughtful meditation 

Repeating positive phrases about people you interact with on a daily basis can stimulate your vagus nerve and improve your mood.

  • Gargling 

Garling with water tends to activate your pallet’s muscles, which in turn increases the performance of your working memory. 

  • Yoga 

Yoga stimulates the vagus nerve, thus helping you remain calm and cope effectively with anxiety and depression. 

  • Laughing 

Have you been laughing hard enough? Well, laughter tends to boost your immunity and improve your vagal tone. 

  • Singing 

Singing, chanting, or humming will help the muscles at the back of your throat work more effectively, which will in turn stimulate your vagus nerve. So, be sure to sing energetically. 

  • Other activities that can increase your vagal tone include taking a cold shower,  drinking cold water, massage, aromatherapy, and intermittent fasting.