Everyone gets anxious from time to time, and in moments when you feel overwhelmed, it can be good to know a few anxiety "hacks" that work for you. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. When you become anxious your heart beats faster, your breathing rate speeds up, and you may feel dizzy or disconnected from your body. If you have anxiety that gets in the way of your life, you may want to try these icy anxiety hacks. Sudden cold exposure stimulates your vagus nerve and can reverse the physiological symptoms of anxiety and help you get back in control.
How Your Vagus Nerve Controls Anxiety
Your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from the base of your brain all the way down to your stomach. Because it’s so long and runs through so many essential parts of your body, the vagus nerve plays a part in a wide variety of functions. It influences your heart rate, breathing rate, digestion, mood, fight-or-flight response, and sense of relaxation, among other things.
Stimulating your vagus nerve is a good way to calm your body down and produce a sense of positive relaxation. Because the vagus nerve influences your body’s stress and fight-or-flight responses, stimulating it can help you relax at a physiological level. When your body is relaxed, your brain follows suit, helping you find a sense of calm. Vagus nerve stimulation is FDA-approved for treating depression, and recent research suggests that it may help ease stress and feelings of anxiousness also.
A study of 11 participants with treatment-resistant anxiety found that vagus nerve stimulation improved anxious symptoms by more than 50%.
A 2019 study found that stimulating the vagus nerve made anxious people less likely to have sudden, intrusive worrying thoughts.
A review from 2014 concluded that vagus nerve stimulation helps relieve phobias and feelings of chronic fear, as well as general anxiety.
Stimulating your vagus nerve is a simple, yet powerful way to relax your body and gain a sense of calm, and one of the best ways to do it is with cold exposure.
Icy Anxiety Hacks to Calm Your Body and Mind
Ice Your Sternum
Your vagus nerve runs from the base of your brain to your stomach, and it goes straight by your heart and lungs. Putting an ice pack on your sternum, right over your chest, is a simple way to stimulate your vagus nerve. You can also use a bag of frozen peas, ice cubes wrapped in a paper towel, or whatever else you have handy.
Put a Cold Towel on Your Neck
Since your vagus nerve is the communication line from your brain to the rest of your body, your neck is another good place to apply cold. If you’re feeling anxious, try soaking a hand towel in cold water and placing it around the back of your neck.
Try Bowl Diving
If you want to step things up a bit, you can try bowl diving— sticking your entire face in a large bowl of ice water— to bring yourself down from a panicked state.
Bowl diving is a little more intense than icing your sternum or putting a cold towel around your neck, and the resulting shock to your vagus nerve will be greater. If you’re feeling especially anxious and want to regain control, bowl diving may be a good choice.
Other Ways to Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve
Breathwork- diaphragmatic breathing
Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. As you breathe in, feel your stomach expand, and when you exhale, your stomach should go back down. This is also known as “belly breathing.” This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.
Humming, Singing or Gargling
Your worries are swept away by a song. Well, that’s because it’s activating your vagus nerve! Simply sing to feel better or gargle if you prefer.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
You can get these from fish oil, or if you’re a vegan, you can find them in chica seeds, flaxseed, hemp seed oil and walnuts.
Mindfulness and Meditation
According to a study, Loving-Kindness-Meditation created a healthy vagal tone in participants. and know that mindfulness in general is a way to activate your vagus nerve as well. Being present centers you.
Yoga is a parasympathetic activation exercise that helps with digestion, blood flow and more.
ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response)
ASMR sends “tingles” from your scalp down your spine and helps calm your nervous system with the use of triggers or tools. This entails whispering, scratching, tapping and other noises that pull you into a trance. There are many on Youtube.
There are many things you can do to activate your vagus nerve and many benefits to a healthy vagal tone. It is your secret weapon to a better you.