Wellness WOF



“By developing an understanding of the workings of your vagus nerve, you may find it possible to work with your nervous system rather than feel trapped when it works against you.” — Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Clinical Psychologist


The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart, and lungs.

The word "vagus" means “wanderer” in Latin, which accurately represents how the nerve wanders all over the body and reaches various organs.

The vagus nerve is also a key part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function, and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on your mental health.


1. Cold Exposure

Acute cold exposure has been shown to activate the vagus nerve and activate cholinergic neurons through vagus nerve pathways.

Researchers have also found that exposing yourself to cold regularly can lower your sympathetic “fight or flight” response and increase parasympathetic activity through the vagus nerve.

Try finishing your next shower with at least 30 seconds of cold water and see how you feel. Then work your way up to longer periods of time. You can also ease yourself into it by simply sticking your face in ice-cold water.


2. Deep and Slow Breathing

Deep and slow breathing is another way to stimulate your vagus nerve. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and increase the parasympathetic system by activating the vagus nerve. Most people take about 10 to 14 breaths each minute. Taking about 6 breaths over a minute is a great way to relieve stress.

You should breathe in deeply from your diaphragm. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and reaching a state of relaxation.


3. Singing, Humming, Chanting and Gargling

The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. Singing, humming, chanting, and gargling can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve. This has been shown to increase heart rate variability and vagal tone.


4. Probiotics

It’s becoming increasingly clear to researchers that gut bacteria improve brain function by affecting the vagus nerve


5. Meditation

Meditation can stimulate the vagus nerve and increase vagal tone. Research shows that meditation increases vagal tone and positive emotions, and promotes feelings of goodwill towards yourself.  Another study found that meditation reduces sympathetic “fight or flight” activity..


6. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that your body cannot produce itself. They are found primarily in fish and are necessary for the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system. They often appear in most of my posts because they are so critical for brain and mental health and affect so many aspects of wellness.

They’ve been shown to help people overcome addiction, repair a “leaky brain”, and even reverse cognitive decline. However researchers have also discovered that omega-3 fatty acids increase vagal tone and vagal activity. Studies have shown that they reduce heart rate and increase heart rate variability, which means they likely stimulate the vagus nerve. 


7. Exercise

Exercise has been shown to stimulate the vagus nerve, which may explain its beneficial brain and mental health effects. Many brain health experts recommend exercise as their number one piece of advice for optimal brain health.

Choose a sport or exercise routine that you enjoy, so that you will stick with it consistently.


8. Massage

Research shows that massages can stimulate the vagus nerve, and increase vagal activity. The vagus nerve can also be stimulated by massaging several specific areas of the body.

Foot massages (reflexology) have been shown to increase vagal modulation and heart rate variability and decrease the “fight or flight” sympathetic response. Massaging the carotid sinus, an area located near the right side of your throat can also stimulate the vagus nerve.


9. Socialising and Laughing

Researchers have discovered that reflecting on positive social connections improves vagal tone and increases positive emotions. Laughter has been shown to increase heart rate variability and improve mood. And vagus nerve stimulation often leads to laughter as a side effect, suggesting that they are connected and influence one another. So my advice is to hang out and laugh with your friends as much as possible. Although I should probably be taking my own advice here, as I’m an introvert and often avoid socialising too much.



You don’t have to be controlled by your body and mind. You have the power to tell them what to do. By stimulating the vagus nerve, you can send a message to your body that it’s time to relax and de-stress, which leads to long-term improvements in mood, well-being and resilience.